Trauma changes you. A brain injury changes you, and those changes life for your loved ones as well.
When a brain injury occurs, treatment must be swift and must be the primary focus. However, often what gets lost in the labyrinth of the minutia of treatment is the lingering impact such an injury will have on the family.
Brain injuries are complicated, different from one person to the next and as such, the changes may be immediately obvious while others take longer to present. Sustaining an injury to the brain may shift personality and behaviour, which in turn impacts both the individual and their entire family.
While each individual is unique, the changes resulting from a brain injury often have similarities. Some of these can include difficulty with memory loss, impaired reasoning skills, and a tendency toward "one-track thinking." Imagine not remembering the names and faces of lifelong friends or turning on a burner with a pot and not remembering doing so.
An expert on acquired brain injury once described it as "a family affair," given its effects on every family member and almost every part of family life. The trauma of the hospital, stresses of returning home, daily strain of maintaining a household, and financial repercussions place an enormous burden on families. Acquired brain injury is different from some other conditions in that its effects can be very sudden.
Families may have to adjust to enormous changes in circumstances over a very short space of time. The changes post brain injury may be significant enough to alter any family's functionality, balance, dynamics, harmony, and landscape. In a moment, life is changed forever.
The Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia is intimately familiar with such stories and offers this perspective from a member: "When my partner was diagnosed with a brain tumor, we had no idea what to expect, especially after multiple surgeries. It seemed that something else changed each time, and sometimes I did not know who I would wake up next to.
Some mornings my partner would be so energetic and want to do this and that, and it was like watching the energizer bunny times ten. And then some mornings, it was like waking up next to almost nothing, no energy, they did not want even to speak or eat or anything. It is hard when every morning is a surprise, not knowing who you would spend the day with and doing what, if anything.
Sometimes, I would go somewhere by myself to cry; it makes me sad for both of us. I used to ask when things would be normal again, and now many years later, I feel like there is no such thing as normal."
Although the effects of brain injury may make it necessary for the injured person to have assistance for as many as 24 hours each day, families often remain or become the primary caregiver and support person. Unfortunately, families are often left to navigate with little understanding of the effects of the injury, the demands of living with an injured family member, what to expect and how to cope.
Families need the support of others who understand the stress within these family systems. In addition, to support and services for TBI survivors, the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia also offers valuable free programs, education, resources, and more for family members and caregivers. Learn more at https://braininjuryns.com/for-families-caregivers/).