brain lobes
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A head injury is a life-altering experience. When a person sustains a traumatic brain injury (TBI), it is not the same as other wounds. This is because brain cells don't regenerate like other body cells do (note this is the historic view, however research is beginning to show there may be ways to bring brain cells out of a "hibernation-like state").[1], [2]

Recovery after a TBI is very possible, but things are usually never precisely the same as they were before the injury, for both the injured (and often) for his or her loved ones also.

At Time of Injury

Depending on the nature of the injury, recovery from a TBI can be arduous and slow, and the impact of a TBI affects everyone in the family. For more severe TBI injuries, it very difficult not knowing in those first hours whether a loved one would survive the injury. It is also anguishing, especially if little to no information can be shared for prognosis, the reason being because doctors simply do not know. And chances are, depending on the injury, they may not know for a long time.

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During the initial time frame it is common for family members to have to sign all sorts of authorizations to allow a loved one to receive procedures that could potentially save his or her life if the injury is severe, however, there are always risks. These are not easy decisions for family members to make, but they are necessary ones that must be made quickly, often without too much time to weigh out the consequences due to the small window of time that may be available to decide.

Difficult Adjustments Post-Injury

Traumatic brain injury is extremely hard and bewildering for the person who has been injured, but it is also is a difficult adjustment for the family. It is possible for the person who is injured to emerge from the injury with a new personality or to act like a "different" person at times or all of the time. This part of TBI is often very hard for family and friends to understand and accept. If memory is intact, it is also hard for your loved one to understand what is happening to him or her. Getting through the initial healing is only the beginning of the TBI journey and some may not be able to regain use of some of their physical movements. The other significant impacts are the cognitive, behavioral, organizational, memory and other unseen deficiencies which are often the most difficult to cope with.

There is a grief process to go through that includes shock, realization, anger, and finally acceptance. No two TBI injuries are the same and the outcome of the injury is impossible to predict. In children it's even more difficult to pinpoint because they haven't finished growing yet and until they reach higher levels of thinking, the diagnosis is unclear. Children do have more elasticity though and some experts say "re-wiring" in their brains is an easier process than it is for adults.

What's important is that you support your loved one in the recovery process and help him or her cope with all the issues being faced. There may be a myriad of doctors to visit, therapies to go to and other exercises to do; but as you are doing this, it's just as important to let yourself go through the grieving process and heal as well. Life will change for your family and by going through the processes it equips you better able to handle everything which has happened and what is to come; your loved one will need you to be there and to be strong. It is not always easy to assume the role of caretaker.

The 'Silent' Epidemic

Brain injury has long been referred to as the silent epidemic because so often TBI was unseen due to the unusual nature of the injury, there are many who are experiencing problems after a head injury, even a mild one, but do not realize they have a TBI.

It's hard enough for families to cope with head injury, but it is even harder when few or no one understands.  Another difficult, even though intentions are usually well-meaning, is hearing phrases such as "Oh it's terrific your family member is all better now" or "things are back to normal". This is another hard part of coping with TBI, for those who regain their mobility, it's hard for others who aren't living this journey to understand TBI is not all about physical healing; there are a lot of unseen injuries going on beneath the surface which has its challenges for the person injured and his or her family.

Thankfully, public and societal awareness has finally begun to rise. This is an important move forward for families that are coping with life after brain injury because as recent as just a decade ago, school systems, some general practitioners and much of the public were not aware of the long-term issues associated with TBI.March has been designated as Brain Injury Awareness Month.

TBI is often referred to as the "new normal" for everyone touched by this kind of injury.

Railroad tracks
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

The journey of recovery from a TBI is unique to each person and family.

After a TBI, you may find you desperately "miss" your loved one, but at the same time feel so grateful to still have your loved one with you; it's a mixed batch of feelings.

This is a topic that comes very close to home for me as it directly affected my family. Things are  far less difficult now than they were early on in the recovery. But it took many years to get here. It's hard to come up with a singular formula in how to cope with family life after traumatic brain injury since no two injuries are the same and no two reactions to the injury can possibly be the same. The extent of traumatic brain injury can range from mild to moderate or severe.

One way that helps families adjust and cope is to find a good support group.  Most states also have agencies that are dedicated to helping support families coping with head injuries. A local support group helped my family tremendously. It helps to talk with or listen to others who are going through similar issues.  To find a local chapter, you can check with the Brain Injury Association. BIA is also a great resource in general for learning more about TBI. [3]