This week is Action for Brain Injury Week. During this week Headway, the national brain injury charity launches a campaign – “You, Me, and Brain Injury”. The campaign highlights the effect brain injury can have on many different lives, in many different ways. Headway seeks to demonstrate the various ways in which people can help those living with brain injury to adapt and regain a degree of confidence and independence.
At Hugh James, we actively support on a daily basis, the work of Headway both nationally and locally. As a consequence of acting for brain injured clients, we are very aware of the ripple effect a brain injury can have on many different lives and actively support the aims of this new campaign.
The Brain Injury team at Hugh James acts for many individuals throughout England and Wales who have sustained serious brain injuries as a consequence of road traffic accidents, accidents in the workplace or public places. These are unique individuals who come from every walk of life but, in almost all these cases, the individual’s injury has impacted on their family, friends and other relationships. It has often been said that brain injury affects whole families, not just individuals.
Many difficult stages have to be passed through from the initial shock of the news of an injury to eventual acceptance that things may now be very different from how they used to be – for both the individual concerned and the whole family.
Changes in behaviour that brain injury can bring to the individual concerned vary enormously but some include loss of memory, speech difficulties, rapid mood changes, problems with vision and hearing, unsteadiness, lack of coordination, aggressive and sometimes violent behaviour and sensitivity to light and sound. However, some may say that families are the real victims and often suffer more than the brain-injured person because they are more likely to have accurate insight into the problem.
We have come across cases in which family members have suffered a mental breakdown, attempted suicide or developed obsessive-compulsive disorders as a direct consequence of a brain injury to a close member of their family.
It is worth noting that in some cases, funding may be made available through the legal process for the family to undertake private therapy to assist them in adjusting to coping with the new situation in which they find themselves.
One of the most common phrases we hear from family members following a brain injury to someone close to them is that their personality has changed. This is the reaction of many, as personality is a major part of how we understand ourselves and others. While everyone’s personality gradually changes over the course of a lifetime, the suddenness of personality change following a brain injury can frighten people as it raises questions about identity.
Spouses often feel isolated and trapped within a marriage where their emotional needs are not being met. Some describe this as being neither married nor single. Relationships are put under enormous strain and a significant number of all marriages in which one spouse has had a severe head injury end in divorce.
Children often experience emotional problems as, alongside coping with the initial trauma and the subsequent difficult behaviour of a parent with a brain injury, their own needs are often neglected and this can impair their performance at school. While parents of children who have suffered brain injury may have feelings of guilt, loss, anger and frustration among other emotional reactions.
Families need attention, guidance, education and support if they are to survive, regroup and rebuild their lives. Some families cope better than others, but all have difficulties. There is no normal way of responding to a brain injury. However, in our experience, families who embrace change and communicate openly and honestly, can emerge out of the crisis of brain injury, and grow in strength.
The key point is that one’s self is an interaction between body and brain and as devastating as a brain injury can be in altering you, it does not have to destroy you or those around you. The fragility of life can give a whole new perspective and intensity to the love that existed prior to the brain injury. Having a person with a disability in the family often brings a new sensitivity and awareness to other members of the family and friends.