Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Coping with trauma of brain injury

A traumatic brain injury can happen to anyone at any time. Causes include road accidents, falls, sporting incidents and assaults. MARGARET ANDERSON, development officer for HEADWAY _ the head injuries association _ tells how the group is helping victims and their relatives.

A traumatic brain injury can happen to anyone at any time. Causes include road accidents, falls, sporting incidents and assaults. MARGARET ANDERSON, development officer for HEADWAY _ the head injuries association _ tells how the group is helping victims and their relatives.



Often the effects of brain injury are hidden disabilities such as difficulty with memory, concentration and changes in personality.

Despite increasingly good initial hospital treatment, life after discharge can be problematic for those who had the injury and for their families.

Impaired judgment, inability to plan and organise and loss of confidence can often dramatically change the lives of other family members. As the wife of one man with a brain injury puts it, 'I'm no longer his wife, I'm his carer'.

Children previously cared for by a parent may experience role reversal and often have to play a part in caring for the parent.

These hidden effects of brain injury add to the feeling of isolation and helplessness experienced by the injured and their families.

Many people who have had a brain injury state that they don't feel they 'fit in anymore', and that they feel they are 'watching the world every day' but they 'don't feel part of it.'Headway is the only charity solely dedicated to supporting people with brain injuries, their families and carers.

They can help by providing information about the possible consequences of brain injury and related problems.

They provide opportunities for families to meet at monthly meetings in four venues throughout Northern Ireland, to provide support.

Varied activities and social outings also enable social inclusion to this group for people who often find great difficulty in re- integrating into the community after an injury.

Provision for rehabilitation in Northern Ireland is limited. Rehabilitation needs are often long-term and varied.

There are a few excellent initiatives and services in a few areas of the province but there is simply not enough.

Overall, services for people with brain injury are inadequate and grossly under funded.

The Regional Strategy for 1997-2002 singled out head injured people as a specific priority for service planning and charged the four Health Boards with responsibility for developing appropriate plans.

Headway fully recognises the contribution that exists both in-patient and in the community settings and are delighted that the boards have agreed a strategy which hopefully will be the beginning of a more acceptable service.

But talk of Brain Injury Services in Northern Ireland has been long running and there are presently many extremely committed individuals in the public and voluntary sectors anxious to get the job done.

The Regional Strategy has raised the expectation of providers and more importantly of the families dealing with brain injury every day.

What is needed now is a swift and effective action plan to move this forward.

The management executive has an opportunity at present to show a real commitment to their strategy.

Headway calls on them to provide adequate funding to increase the level of the present excellent post-acute services and, equally important, to develop in tandem an adequately funded community service in all areas of Northern Ireland.

For too long patients have been discharged from the acute and post-acute stages of rehabilitation to inadequate or inappropriate support and treatment depending on where they live.

The process of re- learning how to function confidently outside hospital and home requires a real- life participative approach.

Rehabilitation needs are long term and sometimes lifelong and must include social and vocational needs to attempt to decrease the handicapping effects of brain injury.

For the sake of people with brain injuries, their families and those of us who will be injured in the future, let's have some action and let's have it now.

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