The Rewiring Process
After a brain injury, what slows us patients down is the damage that has been done to the pre-existing neurological routes within the brain. This is what makes the recovery process such a long one. People who have suffered internal damage to their brain are constantly (and often unaware of the fact that they are) building new routes within their brains to reach pre-existing destinations. In other words, going the long way round, avoiding the damaged areas to reach the healthy ones. This is much of the cause behind the slower thinking process.
Because it takes such a long time to build these new routes, any treatment method is based on a long-term medical plan, not designed for immediate results, but for a continuing state of recovery.
The Reactive Approach
One of the hugely frustrating things about going through the continuing recovery plan of an Acquired Brain Injury is that most of the treatment is based on a reactive mentality rather than an active one.
As I have covered over my last few blogs, ABI’s are very much a long-term injury with outcomes that are unpredictable and arduous. You can be very different in your brain function from one year to the next and it is on this basis that I believe the reactive treatment approach is a good one for assessment only.What I mean by this is that many of the targets you aim for are ones you are told to delay: “see where you are in a years time, then we can make a decision on that.” I heard that a lot from the doctors I was seeing. Now, the thing is, this is not a bad way to approach an ABI recovery as it is very much a reflection of the nature of the injury itself and of long-term commitment. However setting yourself a goal (where you want to get) and not a tactic (how to get there) and how to improve, is not going to read very well at the next assessment.
What I do not think is a good approach is for patients to end up sat on their hands, waiting around for things to happen. That is why, based mainly off of my own experiences, as patients, I believe that you should explore all options available to you when it comes to recovery. Because the help is out there if you are determined to find it. And a reactive approach is not the only way to achieve improvement in an ABI patient’s cognitive function.
Get Your Friends & Family Involved
More often than not, post-ABI, there are various areas of the brain that have been damaged. As such, there are many skill sets that need to be worked on. It may be that you struggle with problem solving, personal interaction, social skills or just general cognitive ability. What worked for me, in terms of improving my brain function, was to try and challenge myself as often as possible within a safe environment.
The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to try and get your friends and family involved with the process as much as possible. People you are close with and who you trust can play a key part in the opening your mind to the various activities that are out there that can be both enjoyable challenging and beneficial.
While it is important to ensure that your brain remains suitably engaged, this does not necessarily mean taking on huge challenges. An activity can be something as simple as completing crossword puzzles every day. To try and improve your social and personal skills, why not try going out for lunch with a friend or family member to see how well you cope with that situation: sitting in a crowded restaurant, being in unfamiliar surroundings, ordering your Food& Drink. Little things such as these, if done often enough over a long period of time, can produce very positive, more visible results.
Having a friend or family member there acting as an advocate can also help you out if you start to struggle, they can keep an eye on you and assess how you react to certain situations. If I could give advice to any carers out there, it would be to ensure you record how the person with ABI reacts in different situations. This will enable you, through trial and error, to build up a program of recovery activities that suit the brain injured and produce positive results.
Seek The Right Advice: Charities & Organisations
One of the first ports of call I could suggest to anyone recovering from an ABI, if you’re looking for professional advice from someone who is not a doctor, is to make an appointment with one of the brain injury charities. The charities in the UK that focus on working with brain injury patients do spectacular work. Headway UK have chapters dedicated to specific areas of the country to help citizens of that area (as I’m sure you know) and offer tailored programmes, services and support for people and families living with an ABI in specific areas of the country. As well as offering care packages for those suffering with ABI’s they also offer educational courses for family members and carers to ensure that home life can be as peaceful and well organised as possible.
For those of you looking to get information for specific services; whether medical services, rehabilitation, care or even legal advice, The UK Acquired Brain Injury Forum offer a directory of reliable resources to contact for people and families going through an ABI. As well as offering events, seminars and lectures to help people gain a better understanding of brain injuries as a whole.
The last one I will mention is the Child’s Brain Injury Trust, a charity dedicated to helping children who have suffered an Acquired Brain Injury. CBIT offer, as well as tailored rehabilitation and support programmes, an array of courses to help educate employers, teachers and parents alike on how to work with children suffering with ABI’s.
Don’t Let It Dictate Your Life
As I stated earlier, much of the medical approach to a brain injury recovery is focused around reactive methods: a wait and see type of attitude. Again, I am probably repeating myself here, that is a good approach in terms of assessing the consequences of the injury. If I was going to give anyone any advice based on my own experience, it would be to have a completely open mind. If somebody puts something forward that could be beneficial to you, give it a go. You never know what the results will be. With the help and advice of your friends and loved ones as well as professionals from the various charities that work in the field of brain injuries it is possible to build up a program of activities that can be beneficial to you, that you can enjoy and will hopefully lead to some improvement before your next assessment.
About the author
My life was changed for ever on the 30th of August 2009 when an attack on a night out left me with sever brain injuries. I was left in an induced come after suffering fractures to the skull, bleeds on the brain, as well as severe bruising to the frontal lobes. Since the injury I have found it hard to find and keep work, to maintain relationships, and generally stay positive. I have decided to share all of my journey with you, in the hope we can bring brain injury awareness to the level it should be at. Please, follow my own WordPress blog Life After Brain Injury to keep up to date with my brain injury journey! Follow me on Twitter: @ABIBlogger
Tom Massey, ABI Blogger