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Caregiving after Brain Injury: Preventing Burnout

Few illnesses or injuries result in the overwhelming changes which can accompany severe brain injury.

Your loved one that has sustained a brain injury may seem to to be a different person. They may behave differently, think differently and/or interact with their environment differently.

When a family member suffers a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the entire family is affected. Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but it also involves many stressors: changes in the family dynamic, financial pressure, routine disruption, and of course, the added workload.

Caregivers of people who have suffered a brain injury may experience feelings of grief, guilt, burden, distress, anxiety, anger, depression and even embarrassment. Caregiver stress can be particularly damaging for caregivers of a person who has suffered a TBI, since their challenges are typically long-term and chronic.

If you are caring for a family member, spouse, child, relative, or a close friend with TBI, it is important to recognize how stressful the situation can be and to seek proper support.

One of the ways to prevent burnout may be to develop a circle of care and ask your support system of family, friends and community members for help with your loved one’s care.

In addition, services that would be helpful include in-home assistance (personal support workers or home health aides); respite care to provide breaks from caregiving; brain injury support groups and ongoing or short-term counseling for caregivers to adjust to the changes in the family dynamics as a result of the injury.

Keep in mind that it is not selfish to focus on your own needs when you are a caregiver.  In fact, it is an important part of your role to prevent the burnout of yourself, as you are responsible for your own self-care in order to continue and take care of others.

Focus on the following self-care practices:

  • To avoid compassion fatigue, take time for yourself without feeling guilty. You will not be able to take care of your loved one if you are physically or emotionally exhausted.
  • Learn and apply stress-reduction techniques (An Occupational Therapist or a social worker can assist you with this).
  • Attend to your own healthcare needs include keeping your own doctor’s appointments and, if you are on medications, keeping your own medication schedule.
  • Get proper rest and nutrition.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Participate in enjoyable and nurturing activities.
  • Be assertive in getting the support and help you need. Accept the support from others when it is offered.
  • Find a caregiver support group. Educate yourself about available resources.
  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings. Do not ignore intense feelings of depression or anxiety. Seek professional help if you need it.
  • Try to identify and change the negative ways you view the situation.
  • Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals.

Submitted by: Miranda Mo, OT Reg. (Ont)