Following a brain injury, family members will often spend every possible moment dedicated to efforts in support of an injured loved one and devote special attention to helping that survivor get the best care possible. They with rare exception will spend countless hours on the phone battling insurance companies and filling out forms. These family members must deal not only with stressors directly related to worrying over a loved one’s health, but must make peace with planning for a suddenly very different future and must manage (sometimes alone) a freshly revealed terrifying financial mine field.
Brain injury survivors themselves also face an enormous number of stressors as they struggle to regain command of basic skills and learn different ways to perform common tasks. However there is a major difference in this regard between the brain injury survivors and their family members, particularly while the survivors are in rehabilitation. The brain injury survivors are surrounded throughout the day by professionals trained in the treatment of brain injury who can help with mood, education and adjustment. Survivors merely need look to their immediate surroundings to find an abundance of professional help to address any difficulties. Family members generally do not have anything approaching such a level of support so readily available. With all this in mind, it becomes clear just how thoroughly brain injuries are in fact a family affair. All members of a family are affected, not just the brain injury survivor. Likewise, all family members are part of the team necessary for managing long-term effects of the injury. It is important that all members of the team (not just the survivor) are receiving the help and support that they need in order to adjust to these major life changes.
At TLC, staff commonly ask survivors’ families, “Are you getting help?” and “How can we help you through this process?” It is important that family members do not neglect themselves while giving all they can to aid injured loved ones. Such care taken is in the best interests of both the personal health of the family members in question and the optimal well-being of the survivors they support. Caregivers with high stress levels often find themselves more susceptible to physical illnesses than the average person. A family member side-lined by illness can offer only a fraction of the aid and support he or she would wish to. Further, family members deserve to be allowed to live their lives to the most complete level of happiness possible (just like the survivors deserve to). Put simply, if these family members are struggling themselves then they are placed in a severely disadvantaged position from which to help the survivors in their lives.
Family members of survivors should consider personal therapy and support groups as aids for their own psychological and spiritual adjustment (Both the Brain Injury Association of America and the American Stroke Association offer listings of local support groups). These family members can often benefit from reaching out to friends and community resources in order to better address the management of difficulties. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but is instead a common sense step taken in the interest of maximizing both individual and family success and happiness. Brain injuries are complex and stressful. Family members should not pretend to be super-humans capable of handling anything and everything. They should actively ask doctors and therapists for information on brain injury prognoses, education resources and proven strategies helpful in planning for the future. Overall, one of the most important ways that family members can contribute to the advancing well-being of survivors in their lives is to remain sufficiently mindful of their own.
Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: http://tlcrehab.org/