Brain injuries are not just devastating for the victims but also for their family members and other loved ones. Often, family members become the primary caregivers of traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients in the weeks and months following the medical event affecting their loved ones.
Below are some tips for getting through the uncertain days and weeks following your loved one’s TBI.
Because all brain injuries are unique, it is better to hope for the best while preparing for the worst. Loved ones of TBI patients go through their own trials by fire in the initial period following the injury as they struggle to come to terms with the limitations and challenges their family member now faces.
Prepare yourself to see your family member hooked up to numerous wires and tubes. Depending upon the nature of the TBI, his or her head may be swollen. Doctors often have to shave the head and remove a piece of the patient’s skull in order to relieve pressure on delicate brain tissue. All of this can make your loved one look unfamiliar to you.
Your loved one may be in a deep coma initially, either from the injury itself or medically induced to restrict movements. It may seem alarming, but be assured that the doctors and other medical professionals are on top of the situation.
Quite naturally, you will be seeking answers to questions about your loved one’s future. Rest assured that the doctors aren’t being intentionally dismissive — it’s nearly impossible to predict with any accuracy the level of impairment your loved one will suffer as a result of the TBI.
Some TBI patients make full recoveries over time. Others recover partially and are challenged by changes to their speech, hearing, vision, mobility and personality. Most of the recovery typically occurs in the initial weeks and months following the traumatic event, but there have been inexplicable recoveries after years in some rare cases.
Short visits are best at this time. Your loved one needs the healing properties that rest can bring. You may have to share gate-keeping tasks with the nurses and spread the word to friends and extended family to limit their visits right now.
Those who do visit should be quiet and calm. Some TBI patients appear to respond to their favorite music played at low levels. A soft blanket or plush toy might be appropriate. Speak to your loved one as you normally would, telling them of the day’s events and keeping your tone positive and loving.
When possible, orient him or her to time and place. This is especially important when your loved one first emerges from a comatose state, as he or she will likely have no memories of the events surrounding the TBI.
Even when the patient is still comatose, medical professionals encourage others to communicate positively with him or her. Assume that your injured loved one is able to hear your conversations, so keep them light and upbeat and never dwell on their potential limitations.
It’s also helpful to ask unconscious patients to attempt to squeeze your hand, move a finger or toes or to open their eyes. Ask gently without commanding them.
Keep background noise from TVs or radios to a minimum. Keep the door to noisy hallways closed. Remind visitors to speak in low, soothing tones as well.
If you are the caregiver for a TBI patient, you will need to be their advocate in many different ways. One thing that you may need to do is learn more about the circumstances of your loved one’s injury so that any at-fault individuals can be held legally and financially accountable.