How to Care for Someone with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Every single day, at least 138 people die from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the U.S. (Source: CDC). In addition, each year there are about 2.5 million emergency room visits, hospitalization and/or deaths associated with TBI. When someone suffers a TBI it is not just a single-person impact. Instead, the whole family is thrust into emergency caregiver mode. The caregivers of those who have suffered a TBI may experience: stress, anger, depression and additional, severe emotional distress. As a caregiver of someone with a traumatic brain injury, it’s important to know what a TBI is, the symptoms associated with it, and how to care for someone with a TBI.

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

According to the NIH, a TBI is “a form of acquired brain injury, which occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain.” A TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Every TBI is different, and symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain.

What are the Symptoms of a TBI?

The list below outlines some of the most common symptoms someone with a TBI may regularly experience:

  • Losing consciousness
  • Feeling confused, lethargic, or tired
  • Developing a headache, or feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Having blurry vision or feeling that your eyes are tired
  • Hearing a false ringing sound in the ears
  • Having changes in patterns of sleep, behavior, memory, or concentration

A TBI has an unpredictable road to recovery. There are many factors that contribute to the recovery process and as a caregiver you need to be prepared for the unknown.

Caring for Someone with a TBI

How to care for a TBI will vary case-by-case. How long and how arduous the road to recovery is will directly affect the type of care needed. Some general tips on how to care for a TBI include:

  • Rest, rest, rest, and rest some more! This goes for both the caregiver and the sufferer of a TBI. Rest is critical to allow the body and brain time to repair and recover. Things that require little-to-no energy will be more difficult so it is important to rest and rest often.
  • Keep prevention on the mind. Do not put your loved one in a situation that could cause another TBI or even a mild head injury.
  • Check with your doctor first before resuming regular activity. Most injuries have a predictable path forward, but a TBI is unpredictable and hard to measure. Check with your doctor before engaging in any regular activity (i.e. driving, exercise, etc.).
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking. Do not allow your loved one to drink any alcohol or smoke at any point. The impact could severely set-back any progress or do further damage to the brain.
  • Keep a diary of daily activities. Keep track of the day-to-day for both the doctor’s benefit and your loved one to have a reference point. If possible, have them write down their daily routine so they recognize their handwriting.
  • Discuss any and all medication with your doctor. Make sure to review whatever medication- whether prescribed and/or over-the-counter medicine- with your physician. You need to be extra careful and aware of what your loved one is taking.
  • Use rehab if possible. You can do much of your daily care at home but consider using a rehabilitation center or service to help your loved one recover.

Don’t try to do this on your own, reach out to others for help because this can be difficult and long-term. For additional resources, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance by clicking here.