It is rare that any of the injuries that people tend to suffer in life will have the life altering effects that come with a TBI. The injury affects so many aspects of our lives and there will, unfortunately, be lasting damage that we will have to contend with for the rest of our days. However, that does not mean that the severity of the effects of the injury will be the same. For instance I do not believe that the condition of a person with brain injury at the start of the recovery will be the same say, twelve months, two years or even ten years after the injury occurred (except in the most extreme and unfortunate cases). With effort, a carefully considered approach and the right attitude, environment and influences, improvements can be made to a person suffering from the effects of a brain injury. However, there is no quick fix, no magic solution; because, at the end of the day, we are all individuals. Our brains work in different ways, we have different likes and dislikes, different strengths and weaknesses and different personalities. So any universal solution that could be offered would be inherently flawed. The best I can do is offering you the benefit of my experience as a person with TBI and what worked for me.
Inclusion in the Recovery Process through Communication
One of the first steps towards recovery that my parents (who were overseeing the recovery process at home) took was that I would be involved in the decision making process and talking through any possible avenues to explore. Now that I look back on it, the majority of the decisions were still made by my parents; they just discussed what was going to be done with me before we did it and made sure that I had no objections to whatever we were going to try. Nevertheless, it was good to feel that I was being included in the decision making process.
This approach of using open communication did a lot for me. To know that I was still considered capable and trustworthy, despite what I was dealing with (even if I wasn’t in any fit state to contribute more than my consent or objections), had a positive effect on my mindset and massively increased my confidence and improved how I viewed myself. The slow building of confidence and self-belief plays an integral role in the rehabilitation process and the knowledge that I was still an equal part of the family, that I was not being excluded helped to get the ball rolling.
Tackiling Claustrophobic Personal Space
A big way to reduce the amount a brain injury affects the life of a patient is to find alternatives to compensate for their difficulties. Try to find substitutes for things they cannot have or alternatives for things they cannot do to reduce the loss that they have endured.
Just as an example, a big issue I had after my TBI was a problem with personal space. I had real difficulty going to places that involved noise, close proximity to other people and the necessity to socialise and interact with others. So in the early stages of recovery when I needed to go outside and see something less of civilization; instead of going into the busy market town I lived in, I went half a mile in the opposite direction where there was a small, quiet seaside village. Here, my dad and I would go for a walk on the beach or have a cup of coffee in a café, just as something of a day out to compensate until I was ready to tackle more active social situations.
Gradual Gains Technique and Perseverance
As is the nature with brain injuries, any improvements that are made will not be done so over night. It is a day-by-day, slow and steady battle of attrition that can only be made successful by hard work and determination. From my experience, the only way to get continued improvement is (only when you are ready of course) by always challenging and pushing yourself. Ensure you complete the brain exercises you have been given, whether that is a word search puzzle, spot the difference, or colouring in (all of which I did as part of my occupational therapy in the early stages of recovery).
As time goes by and these exercises become slightly more manageable, try and use the system of what is called Gradual Gains. Time how long it takes you to complete an exercise so you have a baseline to start from and then try to improve on that time day-by-day, trying to beat the previous days time. This is a great way to challenge your brain more as well as adding almost an element of competition to the exercises. This is highly beneficial as well as it can make you more motivated to do something that perhaps can seem slightly dull at times when you have done it day, in day out for weeks on end.
This technique can be applied to almost any element of the recovery. When you are going out for a walk, try and walk a little further. When you read a book, try and read an extra page. Continued use of this technique will begin to build up brain/physical stamina and I’m fairly confident that you will see improvement should you continue to use it long-term.
Another huge benefit of this technique is that should you feel as though you are too tired to complete the task, to beat the time, you can always just stop and have another go tomorrow.
To close this post, if I could say anything else it would be to branch out and be open-minded. If you investigate, through a combination of charities, the NHS and other government services there will be plenty of programs set up to help people who have suffered brain injuries come to terms with their injury, re-adjust and reintegrate into community or just activity groups where people can have fun and socialise. The fact is though, no matter what I say and what avenues you go down on, the process will be a case of gradual gains and slow improvements. There is help out there if you look for it (Headway being a good example) but the truth is that the key to a successful recovery is thinking long-term and developing strategies and routines that adhere to and strengthen a continuing process of recovery.
Thanks for reading and I hope this has been of some benefit to you. Come back again next week where I will be talking about the activities that helped me upon my discharge from hospital.
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 coma 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