Relationships after Brain Injury

Relationships are a very important and intimate part of life. They give us a sense of security and wellbeing, and contribute towards our sense of self-identity. It is often our closest relationships that provide the vital emotional and practical support needed when hardships are faced, such as when a brain injury occurs.

For some people, the emotional, behavioural, physical and cognitive changes after brain injury can have an impact on existing and future relationships. There are a number of ways in which this can happen and a number of different outcomes. Some relationships may strengthen, whereas others may become strained over time or even completely break down.

Continuing support from friends can help the survivor feel more positive

Brain injury can cause changes in the way a person thinks, feels and behaves and can also affect their physical ability. This can sometimes affect the relationships they have with their friends. Many people will not know what a brain injury is and how it can impact someone, and therefore may not be able to understand how and why their friend has changed.

Friends might also assume that once the survivor is out of hospital, they will be ‘back to normal’. However, for many survivors the emotional, cognitive and behavioural effects only become noticeable once they have returned home. The survivor might need time to adjust to their new circumstances, and friends might need to adjust accordingly as well. Learning about the effects of brain injury and identifying ways of offering support can help friends during this period of adjustment.

Continuing support and care from friends can also help the survivor to feel more positive about themselves and their circumstances, which can have a positive impact on their overall recovery and general wellbeing. In turn, this can have a positive impact on the friendship and it can become possible to move forward creating new memories together.

Ways to support your friend

1. Learn about brain injury 

  • Read about brain injury and speak to your friend about what they are personally experiencing.
  • Remember that brain injury symptoms can fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, so while your friend may appear to be well and functioning on one day, they might struggle the next.
  • Learn about different coping strategies to help your friend with managing the effects of their injury.

2. Encourage your friend to seek support 

  • Encourage your friend to contact their nearest Headway group or branch for support in their local area.
  • If you suspect your friend is feeling depressed, gently encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and to seek support, either from yourself, other friends or professional services.
  • If your friend is experiencing ongoing problems from their injury which are affecting their quality of life, encourage them to seek support from their GP or local adult social care team.

3. Look out for your friend 

  • Ask after your friend and offer to help out where needed. At the same time, respect their independence and do not assume that they cannot do things by themselves, as many survivors learn ways of adapting to their injury over time.
  • If you are concerned that your friend lacks insight, and you notice anything which causes you to be concerned for their safety, consider speaking to their partner or other family members.
  • If appropriate, attend rehabilitation sessions with your friend and ask the rehabilitation team if there are any activities that you can help your friend with.

4. Offer practical support 

  • If your friend has young children, offer to occasionally look after them for a few hours.
  • Offer to help with tasks such as grocery shopping, travelling, cooking or form-filling.
  • When buying gifts for your friend, consider practical things that can help them on a regular basis, such as a journal or personal organiser if they have memory problems.

5. Out and about 

  • Fatigue can be a particular issue during or after outings. Try to therefore keep outings short, and encourage your friend to rest beforehand and afterwards.
  • If your friend struggles in busy, noisy environments, consider going somewhere quieter or visiting one another’s house.
  • While you cannot tell your friend whether or not they can drink, do remind them that alcohol can worsen the effects of their injury, especially behavioural effects.
  • Ask your friend whether they would like you to explain that they have had a brain injury to others when you are out.
  • Try to set a particular day and time for activities you do together on a regular basis, as this can be helpful if your friend has memory problems or difficulties with organising and planning.
  • Try not to take offence if your friend cancels on a plan at the last minute or does not socialise as much as they did before the injury.
  • Try to include your friend in activities that you do as a group. You could explore new or modified activities that are safe and enjoyable for everyone, including the survivor.

If you need support with a brain injury claim, please contact Lanyon Bowdler’s team of brain injury specialists who are experienced at handling serious cases.