Living With A Brain Injury: How to Navigate Day-to-Day Life

June 17, 2022 | RedTree

For individuals wondering what living with a brain injury is like, the answer is rarely positive—at first. A brain injury can cause physical pain and limitations, memory issues, and numerous negative emotions, including anger, depression, and anxiety. Fortunately, modern medicine has developed a variety of solutions to manage the long-term symptoms of brain injuries. 

If you’re living with a brain injury, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. About 1.5 million Americans experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year, according to research from the CDC. Around 230,000 of these individuals are hospitalized from their accident and about 90,000 experience long-term disabilities. 

Help is available. Although TBI affects daily life in a variety of ways, and it can be challenging to live with someone suffering from a brain injury, proper education is incredibly helpful. By understanding what to expect, you can better manage your expectations and cope with the symptoms of your brain injury!

Major Life Changes From Brain Injuries

Serious brain injuries can lead to significant long-term impacts, especially for those who required hospitalization following their injury. Additional brain injury research from the CDC has found that five years after a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury:

  • 30% of patients experienced worsening symptoms
  • 22% of patients experience the same level of symptoms
  • 26% of patients improved
  • 22% of patients passed away

For the 52% of people who experienced consistent or worsening symptoms, their lives have been significantly altered. For example, that same research showed:

  • 57% were moderately or severely disabled
  • 55% did not have a job, despite being employed at the time of their injury
  • 50% returned to the hospital at least once
  • 33% relied on others for help with everyday activities 
  • 29% were dissatisfied with life
  • 29% used illicit drugs or misused alcohol

These statistics give us a brief glimpse into what life with a brain injury is like, but they don’t dig deep into what you should expect if you actually experience a brain injury. 

Living With A Brain Injury: Long-Term Effects and Symptoms

If you’ve experienced a brain injury, there are a variety of ways the injury could impact your life. Symptoms you may experience include:

1. Trouble paying attention, concentrating, and understanding new information. The damage inflicted on your brain may create cognitive issues that disrupt how you learn and process information at school, work, or even in daily conversation. Tasks that once seemed simple, like reading a newspaper article or listening to a waiter explain the day’s specials, may become confusing or overwhelming. Many patients also report feeling “foggy,” as they have trouble processing and absorbing information from the world around them. 

2. Trouble learning and remembering. Many patients also report issues with their memory, especially in recalling events that occurred weeks or months before their injury. Although these memories may eventually come back, sometimes the brain will attempt to fill in the gaps, creating false memories—which can lead to even greater confusion for the patient. 

Similarly, patients may also struggle with learning and retaining new information, especially in the classroom or at work. Even recalling the nightly news from a recent broadcast can prove difficult in some cases.

3. Trouble communicating. Communication issues can occur in a variety of ways after a brain injury. Common symptoms include:

  • Problems thinking of the right word
  • Difficulty following a conversations
  • Tendencies to ramble or go off-topic
  • Challenges in expressing organized thoughts
  • Issues reading and understanding non-verbal communication, including body language 

As we’ll discuss later, these communication issues can negatively impact relationships and contribute to or exacerbate psychological symptoms, like depression. 

4. Trouble completing complex tasks. Multi-step tasks like cooking, driving, or checking email often prove difficult to individuals living with a brain injury. 

When attempting to plan for or complete such complex tasks, some individuals struggle to weigh their options, and others may jump to conclusions or decisions without properly weighing the consequences. 

Of course, these challenges can spark frustration or depression, as many brain injury survivors remember a time when they could easily complete these tasks. 

5. Trouble with psychological issues. As we’ve discussed, living with a brain injury is rarely easy, and adjusting to life with a variety of symptoms can create a long list of psychological issues. For example, patients with a brain injury often report:

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Personality changes
  • Apathy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships

Many brain injury survivors rely on medication and therapy to assist in recovering from their injury and maintain their mental health.

6. Trouble with physical issues. The brain is in charge of numerous bodily functions, and an injury to such an important organ can lead to long-lasting physical consequences. For example, many patients report:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Coordination issues
  • Nerve damage, making it difficult to control muscles
  • Unpleasant side effects from their medication

In addition, about 10% of individuals who were hospitalized for a brain injury experience seizures, with some reporting calm “absence seizures” and others reporting dangerous epileptic spasms.

All of these symptoms can negatively impact quality of life and even make day-to-day tasks more difficult.

7. Trouble sleeping. Sleep is essential to our overall health and wellbeing, but many people who have experienced a brain injury also complain of insomnia and other sleep-related issues. Over time, hampered sleep can compound the physical and mental effects of brain injuries.

A special needs bed, like The Safety Sleeper®, can assist in creating a safe, soothing environment that helps people recovering from a brain injury achieve restful, restorative sleep.

Coping With A Brain Injury: Finding Long-Term Solutions

Although living with a brain injury is challenging, you can find support and long-term solutions to manage some of the difficulties you may face. Here are a few ways to manage living with a brain injury on a day-to-day basis:

1. Stick to a structured routine. Brain injuries can lead to anxiety, confusion, and memory issues, but following a routine every day creates predictability, which can reduce stress. Although you may not be able to go to school or work anymore, finding enjoyable, fulfilling activities can help you lead a happy and healthy life!

2. Use memory aids. Notecards, calendars, schedules, and phone reminders can assist in recalling some of life’s most important details, such as:

  • Your phone number
  • Your loved ones’ phone numbers
  • Your doctors’ and pharmacy’s phone number
  • Your address
  • The addresses of your loved ones
  • Your banking information
  • Important appointments
  • Important birthdays and holidays

If these aids feel overwhelming or difficult to set up, ask a friend or family member for assistance. Once you have them, regularly reviewing the information may help you recommit the details to memory.

3. Assemble a team of doctors and professionals. A brain injury can impact many different parts of the body, which could require a team of specialists to assist you. For example, you may seek the assistance of:

  • A neurologist to assist in epilepsy, muscle spasms, and similar challenges
  • A speech therapist to assist in regaining control of your voice 
  • A psychotherapist to assist in controlling your emotions
  • A physical therapist to assist in rebuilding lost muscle and regaining strength and muscle control

Each specialist may recommend a different course of action. When combined together, they can guide you on a path that can significantly improve your overall quality of life, if not in completely recovering from your injuries.

4. Find a supportive community. Family, friends, and support groups may give you the physical and emotional stability necessary to live with the long-term effects of a brain injury. The consistent support and understanding of these individuals can free you to focus on your recovery, while support groups can connect you with individuals who are combatting many of the same challenges you are.

5. Stay well-rested. Quality sleep is essential to energy levels, concentration, and even controlling your emotions! If you’re struggling with sleep, talk to a doctor about sleep aids. Prescription and over-the-counter medications can assist in falling asleep. 

But don’t forget about creating a soothing environment! Drawing the blinds, turning off all lights, and eliminating distracting sounds can help in falling and staying asleep through the night. Some people also find enclosed special needs beds especially advantageous in helping them reach a full night of sleep.