Living with a Brain Injury: Advice from the Professionals

16th February 2021 Personal Injury

As part of our efforts to raise awareness on brain injuries, we spoke to Sue Houston, Group Chief Nursing Officer at Christchurch Group (a division of Active Care Group) about what it's like living with a brain injury.

The Christchurch Group is a leading provider of award-winning clinically-led neurorehabilitation services for patients with acquired brain injury (ABI), spinal injury and other neurological conditions. Sue is a highly qualified complex care nurse, specialising in neurorehabilitation, with 44 years of experience. 

What kind of concerns would someone with a brain injury have in the first six months of the accident? How might heir Day-to-day Life Change?

The brain determines how we move our body, perceive, recall and process information, communicate with others, feel, behave and interact with them. Damage to the brain can inhibit one or several of these functions and the gravity of the injury will determine how significantly it impacts the individual and the people around them. It can be life-changing and determine an individual’s ability to:

  • Perform daily living skills (e.g. sequencing and doing something as simple as washing, dressing or making a cup of tea) 
  • Walk
  • Talk or have a conversation
  • Remember and recall information 
  • Determine danger 

The list goes on.

Which symptoms of brain injuries are the most difficult to cope with? Are there any solutions that someone with a brain injury can implement?

Brain injury - whether it is short or long term - typically turns an individual’s life upside down. Frustration and inability to do what they did before can have a catastrophic impact on an individual’s wellbeing.

Help them by listening, asking open questions and supporting them as best you can by encouraging the individual to learn coping strategies and pace themselves in their recovery process. Also, encourage a healthy lifestyle and seek support from professionals.

Are people with brain injuries often able to return to work? If so, is it at the same level as they had previously been operating?

Neurorehabilitation programmes delivered by multi-disciplinary teams, including nurses and consultants in rehabilitation medicine, psychologists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and art or music therapists, have been developed to unlock the potential in individuals with ABI, and a percentage of survivors that successfully complete these programmes will be able to return to work and lead a relatively normal life.

Following such devastating injury it’s important that an individual’s return to work is phased and that, working in association with the employer, adjustments are made to that employee’s hours, the environment and the number of breaks they are permitted to take. Brain injury can lead to significant ongoing fatigue and lack of concentration so moderation is key.

For those who are unable to perform in the workplace as they did before, a position volunteering can do much to improve that individual’s physical and emotional well being.

When is a safe time to return to work following a brain injury?

This is a very open question and one that is hard to quantify. The severity of the brain injury will determine whether or not the individual can return to work. It will also determine the length of their rehabilitation programme and the time it takes to recover.

Are people with brain injuries able to partake in sports at the same level as they had previously?

The ability to partake in sports will be determined by the individual’s level of physical and cognitive function. Sports should be approached in a measured way and a risk assessment undertaken if participation could potentially endanger the individual or the lives of others, as could be the case with car or horse racing. It’s also important to remember that ABI can lead to significant levels of ongoing fatigue and lack of concentration so, again, a phased return to sport is recommended.

Are there any jobs or activities that someone with a brain injury would be unable to complete?

Again this is a very open question. An individual’s ability to complete jobs or activities will be determined by the severity of the injury sustained and their cognitive and physical function.

How can family and friends of someone with a brain injury support their recovery?

Family and friends can support someone with brain injury by taking an active role in their rehabilitation, e.g. making sure that they have suitable quiet time, participating in gym exercises, reading a newspaper to them, watching sport together, making sure they are still engaged with their passions, supporting them if they have memory loss and encouraging them to keep a daily diary.  

Be aware too that individuals typically struggle with depression – their world has been turned upside down and they will have both good and bad days. 

Remember too that brain injury places enormous stress on the individual’s family. It’s important to ensure that they too surround themselves with a strong support network and that their expectations are managed carefully in terms of the speed and level of recovery that can be achieved. It’s about being on a journey together and supporting one another throughout.

What are the most common adjustments that people who have experienced a brain injury have to make to their home?

Common adjustments that are made to the homes of individuals with brain injury include adaptions to:

  • The bathroom
  • Kitchen
  • Bedrooms, which may need to be moved downstairs

In your experience, what is the most common misconception about someone with a brain injury?

The most common misconception about someone with a brain injury is that they won’t recover, but with the right rehabilitation programme, they often do.

Is there anything that the general public should know about both the impact of brain injuries, and how to approach someone with a brain injury?

Just because someone has a brain injury doesn’t mean they are any different to you and me - they are still an individual but one that may take a little longer than you to process and respond when they communicate. Some may require assistive technology to do so.

Always approach them with respect and dignity and as an individual - this is an important point.

Would a brain injury require physical as well as mental rehabilitation? What may a treatment course look like for a patient?

A detailed assessment of a patient with ABI typically takes place before they leave critical care and a bespoke rehabilitation programme is delivered by a multi-disciplinary team, including:

  • Nurses
  • Consultants in rehabilitation medicine
  • Psychiatrists 
  • Psychologists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Speech and language therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Music and art therapists  

The rehabilitation programme also continues when they return home. It’s about getting the best outcomes you can for that person. 

For more information on the Christchurch Group, take a look at their website.

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