Caring for a Loved One with a Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an injury to the brain caused by a blow or shock that changes the way the brain works. The common causes of a TBI are falls, fights, auto accidents, and sports injuries. If you have a loved one with a TBI, it is important to learn as much as you can about the condition so you can take an active role in caregiving.

What you might expect

TBI is classified as mild, moderate, or severe. This is based on how severe the injury was when it happened. However, every injury and every brain is different. That means it’s hard to predict the types of symptoms your loved one will have and how long they will last. For instance, a person might have a mild TBI but still have serious symptoms for a long time.

A TBI can change the way your loved one acts, moves, thinks, and feels. Changes may include:

  • Physical symptoms, such as visual problems, dizziness, headache, clumsiness, tiredness, and trouble sleeping

  • Thinking problems, such as loss of memory, poor judgment, confusion, and being unable to pay attention

  • Emotional problems, such as mood swings, anger, depression, and anxiety

Most people with a TBI do recover, but it may take days, weeks, months, or years. Older people and those who have had more than one TBI recover more slowly. If your loved one had a severe TBI, some symptoms may last for many years or even a lifetime. But there are good treatments available. Your loved one’s treatment will likely include a combination of:

  • Physical rehabilitation

  • Mental health counseling

  • Education

  • Healthy lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise

  • Social support services

  • Medicines, if needed

How you can help

Studies show that people whose caregivers include family members recover more quickly. The best way you can help is by taking an active role in supporting your loved one during recovery. Here are some caregiving tips for helping people with a TBI:

  • Help them get organized by using lists and daily planners.

  • Encourage them to concentrate on just one task at a time.

  • Expect them to have a certain amount of fatigue. You may find it is better to plan activities for early in the day.

  • Try to limit their activities if they’re trying to do too much.

  • Help them keep a regular schedule for eating, sleeping, and exercising.

  • Go with them to healthcare provider and rehabilitation visits. People with a TBI may have trouble with memory and attention. Help out by writing down questions and taking notes.

  • Don’t be afraid to offer your opinions and observations. You are the one who knows your loved one best.

  • Help your loved one avoid alcohol and drugs. It may be tempting to use these substances to relieve symptoms, but they will only make symptoms worse.

  • Help by exercising and sticking to a healthy diet along with them.

  • Don’t get discouraged. Remember that your loved one will get better.

Finally, know that caregiving is a tough and stressful job. Make sure to take time for yourself. Ignoring your own health is not good for you or your loved one. If you are struggling physically, talk with your healthcare provider. If you are struggling emotionally, ask about counseling. Many caregivers benefit from joining a caregiver support group. The good news is that you don’t have to do this by yourself.