Especially for families: How to help your warrior with TBI

What’s 2 x 2 equal? How about 4 x 4? The speed at which your brain processes those questions and the energy it takes you to decide on an answer is likely to be minimal—unless you have a traumatic brain injury (TBI). For Warfighters diagnosed with TBI, making decisions and remembering things can lead to fatigue, which spills over into your family. It can take someone with a TBI 2-3 times more energy to process information Still, it’s important for family members to try to be patient and understand that Service Members with TBI might take longer to answer questions about what day it is or even where she or he put the car keys. There are many ways to help your Warfighter cope with TBI symptoms at home too.

Family members often become the main source of caregiving support for those recovering from TBI. Your Warfighter might experience trouble concentrating, memory loss, sensitivity to light or noise, sleep problems, and mood swings. TBI also can impact your loved one’s senses of taste and smell, appetite, sex drive, and balance. Brain processes that were once automatic are now slower or missing and need to be rebuilt as well.

What can families do? Rehabilitation from a TBI can go smoother when family members provide care and emotional support to help manage their Warfighter’s TBI symptoms. For instance, family members might need to talk slower, repeat themselves, and wait longer for responses. It’s also important to know that memory loss that comes with a TBI means your loved one might not recall significant family events and other moments.

Keep in mind learning to adapt to your warrior’s needs helps foster family resilience. Making some changes around your home and to your family’s routines can help reduce everyone’s stress too. Try the following tips to help your Service Member cope with TBI symptoms.

Memory loss

  • Create morning, afternoon, and evening checklists that include simple tasks he or she can do without much effort. Include things such as “check to see the coffee pot is turned off,” “take your medicine,” “lock the front door,” or “make sure the stove is turned off.”
  • Write out weekly events—including chores and due dates—on a whiteboard. Develop a system to mark who’s doing what and which ones are done.
  • Encourage your Service Member to use a phone or tablet to record conversations, make pop-up reminders, or type out notes after a conversation to help recall things later.
  • Help your Warfighter use the calendar on his or her mobile device to track appointments and store phone numbers.
  • To help with writing down reminders, leave notepads and sticky notes all over your house. And store all written reminders in one place, so you can track what needs to be done.
  • Choose appliances that automatically shut off.
  • If you have young children, play memory games together to improve everyone’s skills.

Sleep problems and fatigue

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep in comfortable clothes, and adjust the room temperature to be a bit colder than what’s typical (60–67°F).
  • Visit your healthcare provider to help assess and treat sleep apnea if it impedes sleep quality.
  • Make sure you plan adequate downtime in between daily, weekly, and monthly scheduled events.
  • Plan recovery time after big events.

Vision problems and sensitivities to smells, sounds, and tastes

  • Install smoke alarms with voice commands in your home if your Service Member is experiencing problems with his or her sense of smell.
  • Designate a place in the house that’s low stimulation with adjustable lighting and simple decor.
  • Help your family choose the maximum volume for the TV when everyone is home.
  • Set quiet hours in your home, where everyone agrees to turn off the TV, keep voices low, and use earbuds to listen to music.
  • Decide what herbs and spices are suitable for family meals, especially if your Warfighter is sensitive to certain smells or tastes.
  • Discuss any swallowing concerns to help identify which foods are easier or harder for your warrior to swallow.
  • Consider listening to audio books together or read books with large print.
Resources

Adams, D., & Dahdah, M. (2016). Coping and adaptive strategies of traumatic brain injury survivors and primary caregivers. NeuroRehabilitation, 39(2), 223–237. doi:10.3233/nre-161353

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. (2018, February 20, 2018). A Head for the Future: Recognize. Retrieved from http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/aheadforthefuture/recognize

Hanks, R. A., Rapport, L. J., & Vangel, S. (2007). Caregiving appraisal after traumatic brain injury: The effects of functional status, coping style, social support and family functioning. NeuroRehabilitation, 22(1), 43–52. doi:10.1037/e694092007-001

Tam, S., McKay, A., Sloan, S., & Ponsford, J. (2015). The experience of challenging behaviours following severe TBI: A family perspective. Brain Injury, 29(7–8), 813–821. doi:10.3109/02699052.2015.1005134

Ungvarsky, J. J., & Trivette, S. (2017). Family adaptations to brain injury: Thinking with speedbumps. Paper presented at the 2017 American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Conference, Atlanta, GA.