Caring for Those with Traumatic Brain Injury

Family Caregiving, Military Families February 21, 2012 Print Friendly and PDF

Does your wounded warrior...

  • Have difficulty making decisions?
  • Have trouble completing tasks?
  • Express difficulty concentrating?
  • Suffer from memory loss?
  • Seem sad and depressed?
  • Seem angry?
  • Suffer from fatigue and dizziness?
  • Suffer from headaches?

If so, he or she may be experiencing symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI is a life-altering event for wounded warriors and their caregivers. Although some common predictors exist, recovery is different for each individual.

Causes and effects of TBI

Military-related TBIs can be caused by gunshot wounds, exposure to blasts, and even motor vehicle accidents. When the head receives a direct blow, the skull may be damaged or fractured, and damage to the brain may result. 

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, the severity of TBI can range from a mild concussion to a more severe injury that can cause long-term or permanent damage.

  • Mild TBI, also referred to as a “closed head injury,” is a concussion that occurs when the head is hit or shaken. An affected service member can become dazed or confused or lose consciousness for a short period. This type of concussion is seldom life-threatening, and recovery usually takes a few weeks or, in some cases, a few months.
  • Moderate to severe TBI is often marked by complex war injuries that cause wounded service members to experience periods of unconsciousness and, possibly, long-term amnesia. As the caregiver of a wounded warrior with moderate to severe TBI, understand that your service member may think and behave differently than he or she did in the past.

Strategies for helping and coping

Living with a wounded warrior who has had a TBI can place a heavy burden on the caregiver. It's important that you, as the caregiver, learn to help your wounded warrior and yourself.

  • Identify inappropriate behaviors, such as anger, outburst, withdrawal, and apathy, that may occur in public settings.
  • Educate children about the potential behaviors they may see in your wounded warrior.
  • Take part in community activities rather than become socially isolated for fear of how your wounded warrior may behave.
  • Avoid activities that could possibly lead to another brain injury. Also, be aware that alcohol, caffeine, or “energy-enhancing” substances; pseudoephedrine-containing medications; and over-the-counter sleeping aids can slow the healing process.
  • Be patient. Your wounded warrior may find it difficult to learn new things or understand abstract concepts. Also, he or she may demonstrate communication deficits, such as loss of vocabulary.
  • Join a support group for caregivers who are in similar wounded warrior situations. Locate such groups by contacting your local Army installation's Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC).

Impact of caregiving

Helping an individual who has had a TBI can be hard on the caregiver. You can implement strategies that will help you maintain your ability to serve your wounded warrior.

  • Get plenty of sleep and rest.
  • Establish a regular daily routine.
  • Eat properly.
  • Monitor your health by scheduling routine medical examinations.
  • Enlist the support of family and friends.
  • Include humor in your life, whether by renting comedies, attending live performances, or finding other ways to create feelings of lightheartedness.
  • Share your cares and concerns with others experiencing similar problems by joining a brain injury support group and/or other support groups.
  • Seek counseling or help from a trained professional if you experience an emotional meltdown.
  • Take advantage of respite care (temporary outside care) to the extent that it is available in your community.
  • Never give up! Staying positive will keep your wounded warrior optimistic and help him or her stay motivated during the rehabilitation process.

Caregiving and TBI: What You Need to Know

Caregiver resources

For more information about caring for those with TBI, contact the Brain Injury Association of America and its affiliate in your state, or visit the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center website.

Contact your local Army installation’s SFAC for information about support groups and caregiver support services. For additional information on caregiving, visit the VA Caregiver Support website.


References

  1. Philpott, D., & Hill, J. 2007. The Wounded Warrior Handbook: Traumatic Brain Injury. Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1-132.
  2. Traumatic Brain Injury.” Family Caregiver Alliance, National Center on Caregiving. 22 Feb. 2011.
  3. Traumatic Brain Injury.” U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Aug. 2009. 3 Feb. 2011.
  4. Types of Brain Injury.” Brain Injury Association of America. 3 Feb. 2011.
  5. Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury.” Military OneSource.com. 2008. 3 Feb. 2011 .
  6. What Caregivers Need to Know about TBI.” Brain & SpinalCord.org. 3 Feb. 2011.

Photos provided by the Fort Hood Sentinel.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.