As a spouse of a service member who has suffered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, you may be experiencing a range of emotions. It is important to allow yourself to feel every emotion that surfaces and attend to your own needs. Here are some strategies to consider as you prepare to take on your new role as a caregiver to your spouse.
After the injury
Your spouse may spend a few weeks and months in the hospital, which could be challenging for the two of you. In this phase of recovery, it may be helpful to:
- Gather information. Learn everything you can about your spouse’s injury so that you can compare notes with doctors and other health professionals. Ask questions about your spouse’s treatment program and take stock of the various medical care providers that you interact with during your hospital stay.
- Pace yourself. Don’t spend all your emotional energy in one place because a brain injury requires long-term care. Save your strength for the long haul.
- Understand your spouse’s treatment program. Your spouse’s team of medical care providers will develop an individualized plan to treat his or her injury, which could require multiple hours of in-patient therapy per day.
- Be understanding. Don’t take your spouse’s hostile outbursts personally. Some TBI patients behave angrily toward their caretakers in the first few days and weeks of recovery. This behavior is a result of the injury and not a personal attack.
- Get help. Let your family and friends help you with the day-to-day stuff like taking care of your children, preparing meals and other chores. Make sure you get plenty of rest and eat healthy meals. If you need assistance, contact a Military OneSource consultant who will put you in touch with a trained counselor in your area. Consultants are available 24/7/365. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS dialing options, or schedule a live chat.
Understanding the challenges of TBI
Traumatic brain injuries vary from patient to patient. Some people experience headaches, seizures, dizziness, memory problems and difficulty focusing. Others symptoms include:
- Chronic fatigue. Rehabilitation consumes a lot of energy. Simple tasks may be exhausting for your spouse, and the brain injury may be disrupting his or her sleep cycle.
- Anger. Some patients may seem angry or frustrated because they can’t do simple tasks, remember things or focus on a project. Try to be patient.
- Too much emotion. It may be difficult for your spouse to control his or her emotions. Help your spouse avoid emotional triggers by turning off the TV or radio during conversations. Allow only a few family and friends to visit at one time.
- Insensitivity. Brain injury patients tend to make inappropriate statements in social situations. You can help your spouse by speaking about your feelings directly instead of using nonverbal cues.
- Loss of focus. Your spouse may have difficulty organizing his or her thoughts. You can troubleshoot this issue by helping your spouse establish routines.
Taking care of your spouse at home
Your spouse will endure a long-term recovery process. Although coming home from the hospital is a step towards health, there will still be some challenges ahead. You might try these tips:
- Adjust to changing roles. If you are trying to hold down a job while performing the bulk of the household duties, you might become overwhelmed. Be sure to ask for help. Consider going to couples counseling so that you and your spouse can adjust to changing roles.
- Understand your spouse’s changes. Brain injury patients can look normal, but still exhibit emotional and behavioral symptoms that take longer to heal.
- Let your spouse rest. Brain injury patients tire easily. Schedule outings in the morning when your spouse is rested and allow for naps during the day.
- Treat your spouse normally. Giving your spouse some of the duties he or she had prior to going to the hospital will make him or her feel useful. Increase these duties over time as your spouse recovers.
- Remember what you have together. As you and your spouse adjust to the “new normal,” take time to nurture your relationship: remind each other of what you most admire in each other, or look through photos of special memories.
- Find a TBI survivors group. Meeting other couples in similar situations can be very helpful. Connect with other families by attending a TBI survivors group.
For more information about TBI, visit the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury website. They offer a variety of Family & Caregiver resources, including a comprehensive downloadable caregiver’s guide. Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans includes:
- Comprehensive lists of medical terms and diagrams
- Charts to help keep track of medical providers and medications
- Worksheets to help coordinate caregivers and tasks
- Helpful suggestions about what kinds of behavior to expect and how best to respond
- Encouraging stories from other caregivers, and more.
When your spouse suffers a traumatic brain injury, your life will be impacted in ways you didn’t expect. Recovery can be challenging, as it requires large doses of patience and understanding. By educating yourself on TBI and using the tips listed in this article, you can better navigate through this phase of your lives and adjust to your new normal.