How to Be a Caregiver for Someone With a Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are injuries typically caused by a blow or hit to the head which can lead to mild or severe consequences including loss of sight, migraines, paralysis, and in some cases cognitive difficulties. Being a CDPAP caregiver for someone with a brain injury is a difficult, yet very important, task, and this guide will help you learn all of the information needed to be the best caregiver possible.
Learning About the Kind of Brain Injury
There are many different ways a brain injury can affect someone. In some cases, there will be no symptoms. In other cases, there may be physical or cognitive effects, or both. Some of the most common ways people get brain injuries are from falling and motor vehicle crashes.
Physical Changes for Someone with a Brain Injury
Depending on the gravity and type of brain injury the patient is suffering from, physical symptoms and changes due to the injury. These changes may be short or long term, or in some cases, permanent. Common physical changes someone with a brain injury may include:
● Muscle coordination problems, including swallowing problems
● Full or partial paralysis
● Changes in the senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, etc.)
● Sleep problems
● Speech difficulties and word finding problems
It is important to take notice of any physical changes you may notice in the patient you are caring for. It is equally important to have an open communication with the patient so you can ask them whether certain physical behaviors may be linked to the injury or if they occurred even prior to the injury.
Cognitive Changes for Someone with a Brain Injury
Cognitive changes can be very difficult for patients who have a brain injury. They can heavily impact their life in a variety of ways, including at work, their capacity to be social, and their overall lifestyle. Common cognitive changes due to brain injuries include:
● Shortened attention span
● Memory problems particularly short term memory
● Problem-solving difficulties and trouble following directions
● Poor judgment
● Partial or complete loss of reading and writing skills
● Language problems, including communication deficits and loss of vocabulary
● Inability to understand abstract concepts
● Difficulty learning new things
It may not always be easy to identify whether these changes are short term, long term, or permanent, in the patient soon after the brain injury occurs. As a caregiver, it is important to be patient with these changes, and be patient with the person you are caring for as they may feel anxiety and sadness due to these changes.
As a caregiver, helping the patient learn to live with these changes, as well as comforting them and reminding them that they are loved, are crucial aspects of the caregiving process. Taking time to know what the patient’s interests, passions, and hobbies are, and helping them engage with these within their physical and mental capacities is a significant part of being a caregiver.
Behavior Changes for Someone with a Brain Injury
Behavioral changes have to do with how the brain injury affects the patient’s way to interact with the world around them. This may be caused by the injury itself, or by the mental effect being injured has on the person. Possible behaviors which may occur with someone dealing with a brain injury:
● Difficulty with social skills
● Inability to empathize with others
● Tendency to be more self-centered
● Inability to control emotions, emotional lability
● Increases in irritability and frustration
● Inappropriate and/or aggressive behavior, easily angered
● Extreme mood swings
Depression is very common with people suffering from TBI. When beginning to be a caregiver for someone with a brain injury, you should be prepared to deal with certain depressive phases the patient may experience. You can support them in this struggle by encouraging treatment, whether that be medication, professional therapy, or both.
What a Caregiver May Feel When Taking Care of a Patient with a Brain Injury
Although learning about your patient’s brain injury and its effects is crucial to being a successful caregiver, it is equally important to know how to take care of oneself during the caregiving process. Caregiving for someone with a brain injury can be a strenuous task and can lead to certain mental health impacts including:
● Feeling like a burden
Checking in on yourself as a caregiver, performing self care, and taking time off when you need it are essential to preventing a burnout from caregiving. There are many resources available on how to take care of yourself as well as support groups and professional help to help you along the caregiving process.
There are a multitude of ways to receive support as a caregiver. The first and most important step is accepting help when you need it, and reminding yourself that it is perfectly normal to have periods of downs, stress, and burnouts. Resources available both online and in-person if you find yourself struggling include:
● Seeing a doctor
● Seeing a therapist
● Joining a caregiver support group
● Seeing close friends, family, and loved ones
● Taking a day off when you need it
Caregiving may be rewarding, but it remains a difficult task. It will change your life forever as you learn to become patient, empathetic, and supportive, but learning these things is a demanding job. If you notice any symptoms of mental strain appearing in your day-to-day life, do not wait to seek help.
What to Look for in a Brain Injury Caregiver Support Group
When looking to join a caregiver support group, it is important to make sure the support group is of professional-quality and will not worsen your mental health due to incompetence. Here are some key aspects you should look for in a support group to make sure you are joining the best possible one:
● A professional group and leader
● A group with some experience. (not new)
● A group with clear goals
Different support groups may be designed for different sicknesses, as well. It is a good idea to check exactly who the support group is designed for so you can find one best catered to your personal situation. Taking time to look at all available support groups around you is an important step in supporting yourself as a caregiver.
The Caregiver Action Network is a great way to access resources on what caregiving entails as well as online groups available so you can speak, share, and listen to other caregivers living similar experiences as you.
In this guide, we went through the basic things you need to know in order to be the best caregiver possible for someone with a brain injury. This includes learning about the brain injury itself, and knowing how to identify and prepare for physical, cognitive, and behavioral changes which may be present in the patient.
This guide also aimed to stress the importance of self-care for caregivers. This includes, but is not limited to, taking time for oneself, seeing a therapist, meeting up with friends and loved ones, or joining a support group. As each caregiving experience is unique, there is no one-way to best be a caregiver, and giving yourself some time to figure it out can only help make the process easier.