Ten Tips for New TBI Caregivers

Posted by Janet Cromer

February 9, 2011

Ten Tips for New Traumatic Brain Injury Caregivers

In 1998, my husband Alan suffered a heart attack and cardiac arrest that led to a severe anoxic brain injury. I can still remember those early days when he was in the intensive care unit (ICU). What comes back is my feeling of everything being out of my control. I couldn’t control whether Alan would live or die. Or how much damage the lack of oxygen would cause. The doctors couldn’t guarantee that he’d recover his lost abilities. There was nothing but uncertainty at that early point.

Caregiver’s Emotional Responses

Are you a new caregiver for a family member who has a brain injury? Are you feeling overwhelmed, shocked, anxious, relieved or guilty? Maybe it’s all too much and you’re just numb.

You are going through an intense trauma. Your emotions may be all over the place. As crazy as you may feel, your emotions are a normal response. Your body is also reacting to the crisis with a flood of chemicals and hormones that might make your heart beat faster, your muscles tighten up, and your stomach rumbles. And when was the last time you slept?

In my weekly posts for this blog, I’ll share some tips to help you become a more stress resilient caregiver. It’s not possible to take away all the stressors that come with brain injury and caregiving. However, it is possible to build skills to keep yourself healthier and whole while caregiving.

Ten Emotional Survival Skills

Let’s start with a few strategies to help with the emotional demands during the crisis period. That’s the extremely stressful time when your family member is in the ICU or starting rehabilitation.

  1. Take care of yourself – Make this a priority from the beginning. Even small ways of nurturing and protecting yourself count.
  2. Let others help you and your family. No one can do this alone.
  3. Practice relaxed breathing several times a day for ten minutes. Calming your body a bit can help calm your mind.
  4. Hold on to hope – Brain injury recovery is a roller coaster ride. Hope can be the red car with a wide safety belt that holds you in place as you zoom up and down the hills.
  5. Share your feelings – Talk to a friend or staff member. Ask questions. Write in a journal.
  6. Allow distractions – Watch a funny TV show, read a magazine, or play a video game. Distraction lets your mind relax and recharge.
  7. Seek a quiet spot – The noise and commotion of the ICU double your stress. The chapel is welcoming, even if you’re not religious. Sit quietly. Take deep breaths. Close your eyes.
  8. Think in ways that support clarity and calm – Focus on this moment, this day. Try to keep your expectations and “What if…” thoughts in line. Try to take in what the staff is telling you. Recovery can’t be rushed. Every little step counts.
  9. Sleep whenever you can.
  10. Tend to your body – Eat nourishing food. Stand up and stretch. Take a walk.

Next week: Ten Tips to Manage Caregiver Responsibilities

Janet is the author of Professor Cromer Learns to Read: A Couple’s New Life after Brain Injury. See Janet’s Website at http://janetcromer.com/ and her blog at http://janetcromer.com/blog.

12 responses to “Ten Tips for New TBI Caregivers”

  1. Janet Cromer says:

    Hi Bruno,
    You like to write? That’s a good first step! I try to write a little bit most days. Before I start, I move around to free up some restless energy-stretch, take a short walk, and take some relaxed breaths. I like to set up my writing materials in a neater spot than my desk so I can enjoy the writing process. I set out my paper, fine point pen, and sometimes my laptop. Some days I only write in my journal, other days I work on an essay or article. Then I just start writing, even it it’s not organized or poetic. A challenge for some of us is to send the inner critic out for coffee while we try to write. By that I mean don’t worry or criticize your writing, just keep going. Even the famous writers go back and edit their work later. Enjoy developing your own voice and style as a writer. I accept that I write and type slowly. It’s the process that matters. Have you checked out Barbara Stahura’s workbook, After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story? It’s a gold mine of ideas and prompts to use in many ways. I recommend it for family members, as well as survivors. Good luck!

  2. Bruno says:

    First of all I want to say great blog! I had a quick question which
    I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing.

    I have had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there.

    I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to
    15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips?
    Thank you!

  3. many times, family members assume the role of caregiver. In other cases, groups of family members and friends might all contribute as caregivers, rotating.

  4. Camping Tips says:

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  5. Pauline says:

    Its continuously cool to arrive along a website like yours that has this sort of topics to read about. Totally enjoyed and will definitely be returning typically

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Great and thoughtful tips! Caregivers are known to not only suffer from stress, but health problems as well, simply because they don’t spend time on their own needs as much as the one they are caring for. I think your post is very helpful and am going to pass it on!

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BrainLine, MadBawden and Brain Injury Ass'n, BIA Delaware. BIA Delaware said: Ten Tips for New TBI Caregivers, Blog: http://tinyurl.com/4kwpbyr […]

  8. Janet Cromer says:

    Hello Ginger, Marie, George, and Diane,
    Thank you for your comments. I know you have each found the strategies that work for you. Yes, we all need a gentle reminder to care for ourselves.

  9. Ginger says:

    Janet, I found that first one the hardest to define and understand. It is very important, and we learn what that means for us as we continue in this daily process of living with and caring for brain injury. Thank you for sharing you knowledge. All ten are excellent suggestions. I suggest that new caregivers print this list and post it. I am going to and we have been at this 5 years. Sometimes we forget ourselves.

  10. Marie G. Cooney says:

    Dear Janet,

    I am a TBI survivor, whose family lives far away. I think these tips are as important for us as they are for others. Thanks for your insights. I look forward to reading more and sharing tips with friends and providers at Courage Center in Golden Valley, MN.

    Marie G. Cooney

  11. George Carroll says:

    Keep up the GOOD work. George

  12. Diane says:

    Thanks so much for these thoughtful strategies. It’s so easy to totally ignore our own self care in a crisis circumstance when that’s the very time we need to be rested, calmed, nourished and nurtured to do our best for those we love. I look forward to your post next week – caregivers need lots of support and you definitely know what it’s like.

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