How to Work with a TBI Victim - Even if They Don’t Realize They’re Injured

Imagine that you have been involved in a car wreck. Your vehicle was totaled, and you suffered what you believed at the time were moderate injuries - whiplash, a thin wrist fracture and sprained shoulder. Your recollection of the crash is foggy, but after a few weeks of recovery you feel that you are mostly back to your old self…


Yet, something isn’t quite right, especially in the way the people in your life are treating you. They seem to be looking at you differently. They talk to you differently. They ask if you remember things that didn’t happen, conversations that never took place and they suddenly seem to be treating you as though you are a different person. You’re frustrated, and you feel drained by these interactions, so you eventually start withdrawing from the people around you, which only makes them more concerned.


This scenario is not uncommon for people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, a condition resulting from a jolt or a blow to the head. Traumatic brain injuries can range from mild (concussions) to severe (permanent disability). They impair our memory, change our moods, alter our personalities and affect our cognitive functions.


Traumatic brain injuries are not always noticed by medical responders after a crash. They can even go undetected by a doctor if there is no cause to look for them. Brain injuries often go undiagnosed, and it is only after time passes that the victim - or their family - notices that something is different.


Common Signs of a Brain Injury

  • Memory problems
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Emotional problems (depression, anger, loneliness, anxiety)
  • Difficulties with language - either in use or comprehension
  • Difficulties focusing or keeping attention on a single task or conversation
  • Difficulties with speech
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Disruption of senses (smell, vision, hearing).

After a person “recovers” from a crash, their loved ones might start to lose patience with what they perceive as moodiness or disengagement on part of the injured person. Most people don’t have a working knowledge of all the ways in which a brain injury can impact a person’s demeanor and abilities. Thus, we shouldn’t expect them to fully understand that changes in a person’s personality or daily routines can manifest as the result of a brain injury.

For the victims, these changes can be even less noticeable. After all, they have experienced these changes slowly. It might start with mild confusion and eventually feel like some sort of fog is lingering over them. A victim might be forgetful or no longer find joy in the things that used to make them happy. They might find it difficult to interact with others for long stretches of time.

These injuries create a disconnect between a brain injury victim and their loved ones. The gap only serves to make the situation worse for a person with a serious brain injury, who in addition to experiencing the fallout of an injury, also must deal with a shift in their relationships with the people they are the closest to.

Professionals who have experience with traumatic brain injury victims are all too familiar with this situation. Attorneys who handle brain injury cases and doctors who work with these victims are sometimes the first people to suggest that a person seek testing and treatment for a brain injury. For these professionals, it is key to understand just how delicate the situation is. The dynamics between a victim and their family can be strained. If the two parties don’t fully comprehend the nature of a traumatic brain injury, they can be confused, angered and frustrated by the situation.


An attorney or a healthcare provider might find themselves playing the role of interpreter, explaining the situation to both sides so that they might be able to understand how a brain injury is at the root of the gap between a brain injury victim and their loved ones.


Tips for Working with a Brain Injury Victim

  • Most importantly, be patient. Take time to explain things thoroughly and as many times as necessary to help a victim understand what you’re saying.
  • Treat the victim with respect. It is likely that a brain injury victim feels as though others are being condescending or treating them like a child. Be aware that although a victim might have certain limitations, they still want to be treated like an adult.
  • Don’t overload a victim with information. Recovering from a brain injury can be tiring, and it might take a little longer to process new information or to digest a new concept. Offer them opportunities to take breaks and revisit the topic at hand later.
  • Don’t take withdrawal personally. A brain injury can change a gregarious, outgoing person into a withdrawn person. While they recover, remember that withdrawing is a normal coping mechanism.
  • Don’t expect someone to suddenly be their “old self” again. In the weeks, months and sometimes years that follow a traumatic brain injury, a brain will forge new paths and a brain injury sufferer will establish a new normal. This takes time, and those who live or work with the injured person should accept who they are rather than waiting for them to become who they used to be.

A single brain injury can impact many people. The victim must deal with the injury and all its effects, but their loved ones must also cope with the changes in the victim. These injuries can disrupt families and hinder relationships for several years.

Knowing how to identify brain injuries and how to interact with someone that has suffered a brain injury are key to bridging the divide between a victim and their families. Understanding the problem will put the challenges they face into context and make it easier to move forward and create an environment in which a victim can begin recovery.