Brain injury is confusing to people who don’t have one. And when you care for a loved one with a brain injury, it’s easy to get burnt out and say things out of frustration. Here are a few things you might find yourself saying that are probably not helpful:
“You seem fine to me.” The invisible signs of a brain injury — memory and concentration problems, fatigue, insomnia, chronic pain, depression, or anxiety — are sometimes more difficult to live with than visible disabilities. Your loved one may look normal, but shrugging off the invisible signs of brain injury is belittling.
“Maybe you’re just not trying hard enough.” Depression, fatigue, and chronic pain are common after a brain injury, and can be confused with, or be combined with, apathy (lack of interest, motivation, or emotion). Apathy is a disorder and common after a brain injury. So it’s important to recognize and treat it.
“You’re such a grump!” It’s hard to live with someone who is grumpy, moody, or angry all the time — but irritability is one of the most common signs of a brain injury. Certain prescription drugs, supplements, changes in diet, or therapy that focuses on adjustment and coping skills can all help to reduce irritability.
“Your problem is all the medications you take.” Prescription drugs can cause all kinds of side effects such as sluggishness, insomnia, memory problems, mania, sexual dysfunction, or weight gain. But if you blame everything on the effects of drugs,you might be encouraging your loved one to stop taking an important drug prematurely. At some point in recovery, it might very well be the right time to taper off a drug. But, you won’t know this without regular follow-up.
“Let me do that for you.” It may be easier to do things for your loved one. Yes, it may be less frustrating. But, encouraging your loved one to do things on their own will help promote self-esteem, confidence, and quality of living. It can also help the brain recover faster.
“Try to think positively.” That can be easier said than done for someone with a brain injury. Repetitive negative thinking is called rumination, and it can be common after a brain injury. Rumination is usually related to depression or anxiety, and so treating those problems may help break the negative thinking cycle. Instead, find a task that is especially enjoyable for your loved one. It will help to distract from negative thinking, and release chemicals that promote more positive thoughts.
“You’re lucky to be alive.” This sounds like positive thinking, but be careful: some may not feel very lucky to be alive. A person with a brain injury is six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than someone without a brain injury. Instead of calling it “luck,” talk about how strong, persistent, or heroic the person is for getting through their ordeal.