Traumatic Brain Injury: Supporting Family and Friends with TBIs

By Mike Khorev

August 9, 2021

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Supporting Family and Friends When Dealing With A Loved One’s Traumatic Brain Injury

An injury to the brain can alter the way an individual experiences physical stimuli and emotions. They could suffer mild or significant changes in how they experience emotions and how they behave. This can be extremely difficult for family and friends to cope with, and a highly skilled nurse can do a lot to support them in learning how best to support their loved ones.

In these circumstances, it can be frustrating as a traveling nurse to rarely be in a role for the full duration of a TBI recovery. Not spending adequate time connecting with the victims’ support network can make it harder to effectively support and guide them. However, there are still many ways in which you can provide vital support during what time you do have with them.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can cause a previously gentle and composed person to lose self-control. It is important to help their family and friends understand that they may witness out-of-character outbursts of anger or aggression or be the subject of insensitive comments that could feel hurtful and confusing.

Equally, the opposite could be the case. A previously vivacious person may become apathetic in what is also known as the flat effect. This can also be deeply concerning and confusing to the victim’s loved ones.

Nurses understand that it is of utmost importance to treat a TBI victim with care and sensitivity. However, since the injury is not physically visible, loved ones can often become frustrated and struggle to cope and may judge them unfairly or treat them inappropriately. 

Here are some of the mistakes that family and friends can make and what you can do to help.

Inappropriately expressing frustration over their inability to recall

Most people who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury also experience challenges in remembering. 

Having to repeat oneself several times can be frustrating. Ordinarily, we would ask, “how many times do I have to tell you?” 

Such a sarcastic comment may seem suitable to a support person who, in their frustration, secretly hopes that a push in that direction will spur the patient on to remember. However, in the case of a person with TBI, it will only make things worse.

A compassionate nurse can encourage a patient’s loved ones to deepen their understanding and find gentler ways of supporting progress. Suggest the use of a memo board and focus on improving sensitive communication skills. Demonstrate that using kind gestures can help them remember. You could also introduce them to studies showing that Brain Training and Cognitive Therapy techniques can help reverse the situation.

Blunt remarks about their change in behavior

A brain injury could also cause changes in personality or behavior, one of the most common signs being irritability. It could be a direct result of brain injury or an indirect outcome of psychological effects like anxiety, chronic headaches, insomnia, or depression. 

While dealing with their own traumatic array of emotions, the patient’s loved ones can struggle to manage their reactions. 

It can be hard for them to keep their cool, and it is common to react negatively and critically, which only makes the situation worse. 

Give these support people whatever time you can manage to have them feel heard and understood with compassion. Encourage them to seek some support of their own through a counseling service – an online counselor could be more affordable and easier to access. Other simple recommendations for positive change could help exponentially, too. For instance, changing the diet, supplements, or medication can help them cope. Other changes could require more effort, like changes in routines. But ask the questions to help ensure that they are taking care of their own wellbeing and making healthy choices to help them to cope.

Denial about the signs of Traumatic Brain Injury

Although brain injury may be invisible to the eye, the signs are not. It’s hard to turn a blind eye to the behavior changes, challenges in remembering, inability to focus, and other psychological effects. 

It is common for some loved ones to make it worse by either being genuinely oblivious to these changes or subconsciously opting for denial as a coping strategy. When they make comments like “you seem fine to me,” it could worsen the situation. 

Sometimes, they may not recognize issues like apathy or depression for what they are, and instead, take them to be a form of laziness, and become critical towards the victim. 

Help them avoid this downward spiral by gently encouraging them to accept the situation’s reality and seek help from a counseling professional. 

How to help

As every nurse knows, every person’s experience with TBI is as unique as their fingerprint. But, inexperienced and traumatized loved ones can struggle to comprehend the changes. Symptoms like difficulties with memory, recurrent chronic headaches, and behavior issues like irritability, depression, and anxiety can prove overwhelming on top of recovering from the initial shock and trauma of the injury itself.

Remind them that they are not helpless. Aside from reaching out to a counselor, you can suggest these adjustments:

  • Encourage them to breathe deeply and keep calm, especially when the individual has an emotional outburst.
  • Acknowledge their feelings compassionately and give them a chance to let them out.
  • Support them in learning how to respond positively and gently provide feedback when the individual regains control.
  • Introduce the strategy of redirecting the focus to a different topic or activity.
  • Set up an easily accessible memo board to help with the patient’s recall.

It is also prudent and may help to support the family further to ensure that they have consulted with a lawyer if appropriate. The brain injury could be due to another party’s fault. Perhaps the individual was involved in an automobile accident, operated faulty equipment, fell in a public place, or something went wrong during a medical procedure. In such cases, legal help is crucial. A TBI lawyer can inform patients and family members regarding their rights and guide them in claiming compensation. This can take a huge burden off their shoulders, allowing them more mental energy to cope with the changes.

Final thoughts

As a traveling nurse, your role in a patient’s traumatic brain injury recovery may be fleeting. However, you can still do so much to positively impact their road to recovery and provide them with invaluable support and information that can significantly improve their journey forwards and that of the patients.

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