Effects on Families
Families of brain-injured people grieve. However valiantly or gracefully they support their loved one, they generally go through all the stages of grieving usually associated with death. It is a kind of death. The person they loved is gone forever, replaced by someone with limitations and a personality that is at least different, and maybe unpredictable and frightening. In cases where the brain-injured person is disabled, someone in the family may give up his or her job to be a part- to fulltime caregiver. The house may have to be rearranged. Someone may have to be with the brain-injured family member at all times. With so many changes, it’s not unusual for the grieving process to take years.
In cases where the brain injury is less severe, families may have to deal with a loved one’s more subtle but pervasive problems. A person with a brain injury may show memory loss, an inability to process information, as well as an inability to keep track of what’s going on. Family members experience a confusing array of emotions. They often feel frustrated and annoyed with their loved one for not doing better, then guilty for not being more patient, then angry that they feel guilty.
October Is Brain Injury Awareness Month
Although research is going on every day to help scientists gain a better understanding of brain injury and to try to find a cure, there is currently no way to reverse the effects of a brain injury. Prevention is the only available solution to the problem. For brain-injured individuals and their families, it is important that other people learn from their experience and live life in such a way that the number of new brain injuries incurred each year can be reduced. Public education is thus the focus of Brain Injury Awareness Month.
For example, here are some surprising and disturbing facts:
- There are currently 5.3 million Americans living with disabilities caused by brain injury;
- Each year, one million people in the U.S. are treated and released from hospital emergency departments for brain injury;
- An estimated 50,000 people nationwide die each year as a result of brain injury; and
- Brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability among young people in the United States.
I dream of the day when we’ll have medical technology like that routinely shown in science fiction movies. Trauma to the brain? No problem. We’ll just hold this little gizmo next to a person’s head, the person wakes with a start, and life goes on as before. But, sadly, we’re a long way from such a simple remedy.
In the meantime, all we can do is be careful. Our skull case evolved to protect us from a fall at a flat-out run, not a trip through a windshield, a gunshot wound, or a motorcycle wreck. In recognition of Brain Injury Awareness Month, my call to everyone is this: Please be careful! And please, continue to lovingly nag those you love to be careful too.