Traumatic brain injuries (or TBI) are usually caused by a blow to the head. They commonly occur after a fall or a car accident. Brain injuries affect everyone differently and the effects can range from loss of sight, migraines, paralysis, and cognitive difficulties.

Being a CDPAP caregiver for someone with a brain injury can be difficult, so below you’ll find information to help guide you.

Types of traumatic brain injuries

There are 4 main types of traumatic brain injuries: concussion, contusion, penetration injury, and anoxic brain injury.


Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury. They’re caused by an impact to the head, or sudden movements such as shaking or whiplash. While concussions may be minor, the long-term impacts are more severe if you sustain multiple concussions over your lifetime.

Side effects of concussions include headaches, memory loss, disorientation, and issues with concentration.

Penetration injury

A penetration brain injury occurs when an external force or object breaks the skull and causes an object (such as a bullet or skull fragments) to make contact with the brain. These injuries can be caused by a fall, car accident, or sports injury that cracks the skull or a gunshot wound.

Penetration injuries can be fatal, but even when they are not the aftermath is serious and patients can experience loss of cognitive abilities, speech and vision impairment, diminished motor skills, and even coma.


A brain contusion is a bruise of the brain tissue, caused by the breaking of blood vessels. A bruise to the brain is much more serious than in other parts of the body because leaking blood can cause pressure in the head.

These injuries can range from moderate to severe, causing confusion, loss of consciousness, confusion, fatigue, or mood changes. If a contusion causes the brain to swell, it prevents oxygen from getting to the brain, leading to even more serious effects.

Brain contusions are caused by an impact to the head and commonly occur during car accidents, falls, or sports-related accidents.

Diffuse axonal injury

A diffuse axonal injury occurs when the head moves violently (for example, during a car accident). If the brain stem cannot keep up with the speed of head movement, it causes tears in the connections between the brain and spinal cord.

These injuries cause severe disability and are commonly fatal.

What changes can one expect after a brain injury?

If you’re caring for someone with a traumatic brain injury, you may see cognitive, physical, and personality changes. They may need significant help doing everyday things.

Cognitive changes

Cognitive changes that can occur after traumatic brain injuries can include:

–          A shortened attention span

–          Short-term memory problems

–          Problems with problem-solving and/or trouble following directions

–          Poor judgment

–          A partial or complete loss of reading and writing skills

–          Problems with language, including reduced communication skills or a loss of vocabulary

–          The inability to understand abstract concepts

–          Difficulty learning new things

Physical changes

Traumatic brain injuries can result in physical changes as well, including:

–          Body and muscle weakness

–          Problems with muscle coordination

–          Swallowing problems

–          Full or partial paralysis

–          Changes in sexual functioning

–          Changes to the senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, and/or smell)

–          Seizures

–          Sleep problems

–          Difficulties with speech and vocabulary

Personality and behavioral changes

Personality changes can be among the most difficult side-effects for the patient (as well as family and friends) to deal with. After a traumatic brain injury, a person may experience:

–          Difficulty maintaining social skills

–          The inability to empathize with others

–          The tendency to be more self-centered

–          Emotional lability, or a loss of emotional control

–          An increase in irritability and frustration

–          Inappropriate and/or aggressive behavior

–          Being easy to anger

–          Extreme mood swings

–          Depression

Recovery tips for someone with a brain injury

After a traumatic brain injury, a patient should be careful not to add any other stress and avoid any further damage. Recovery tips for those with TBIs include:

–          Getting proper rest

–          Avoiding actions that could cause another head injury

–          Refrain from driving, riding a bike, playing sports, or working out with heavy equipment (in consultation with a doctor)

–          Avoiding alcohol or drugs (these can do further damage to a healing brain)

TBI patients should also try to work on their memory, concentration, and organizational skills. Here are some suggestions that may help:

–          Write down to-do lists and record events on a calendar

–          Maintain a daily journal to help rebuild memory skills

–          Repeat actions and activities that are troublesome in order to improve memory functions

–          Store important items in the same place every

–          Keep a steady pace during activities and take breaks as needed

–          Focus on one action at a time

–          Perform tasks in a quiet, non-distracting environment to improve concentration

–          Relaxation techniques to help manage irritability and anger

It’s important for TBI patients to follow up on any rehabilitation services recommended by a doctor.

Who should be part of the recovery team?

A TBI patient needs a strong team around them. Many of these injuries interfere with everyday life to the point that patients need assistance.

A recovery team will generally include:

–          A doctor or doctors who can oversee the rehabilitation process

–          A neurologist who can continue to assess and treat nervous system disorders

–          Occupational, physical, and/or speech and language therapists to help a patient regain verbal skills

–          A neuropsychologist to treat behavioral disorders or any issues with cognition

But perhaps the most important source of support for TBI patients is family.

How can one prevent a brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury can happen to anyone at any age.

In order to avoid TBIs caused by motor vehicle accidents, one should:

–          Use proper seat belts and car seats

–          Avoid driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medications

–          Use a helmet on a motorcycle or bicycle

–          Avoid using handheld devices or smartphones when driving or walking along the road

TBIs can also be caused by falls. To avoid these injuries, those with any mobility issues should:

–          Use the rails on stairways

–          Install adequate lighting on stairs or in places where accidents might occur

–          Place bars on windows to prevent children from falling

–          Remove any obstacles from places where people normally walk

–          Exercise to improve strength, flexibility, and balance

While it can be hard to avoid TBIs, it’s worth the extra effort as the quality of life for the patient and everyone around them can change after these types of injuries.

What caregivers may feel when taking care of a patient with a brain injury

Being a caregiver is hard no matter what the circumstances. But those who care for patients with TBIs can feel particularly overwhelmed if personality changes make a patient difficult to deal with.

When someone’s personality changes or they suddenly require a lot of extra help, it’s normal to feel extra stress as well as anxiety about caretaking duties and the future. Caretakers often feel burdened with the extra responsibilities and often experience anger at the situation. Rehabilitation can take years and is often slow, frustrating everyone involved.

These feelings are normal and require self-care and, in some cases, professional care for the caregiver themselves.

Getting help

Caretakers who work for a TBI patient should stay aware of the stress or other effects their duties may have on them. Ignoring these issues out of guilt will not help anyone, including the patient.

It’s important to accept assistance when people offer it, especially if it gives you time to engage in self-care activities such as extra rest or stress-relieving hobbies.

If you are experiencing your own emotional turmoil over your caretaking duties, it’s important to see your own doctor so they can help pinpoint any symptoms that require treatment.

Therapists and support groups can also be of great help for those with caretaking duties, no matter what the patient’s condition. No matter what you’re experiencing, you’re not alone, and talking to people in a similar situation can help you feel validated and understood.

What to look for in a brain injury caregiver support group

Not all support groups are created equal. When you’re in a deeply stressful situation, it’s important to find a group led by a professional support group leader in order to avoid frustration or worsening of your emotional symptoms.

It’s best to find a support group that has a history of success rather than a new group with no track record. A group that sets out clear goals for therapy and self-help and is dedicated to caregivers will help give you the support and understanding you need.

While it’s crucial to work hard to give the best care to a vulnerable TBI patient, you can’t do that unless you’re also taking care of yourself.

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