Brain Injury and Fatigue

Brain Injury Blog

Brain Injury and Fatigue

by Janelle Breese Biagioni

Recovering from an illness or injury is hard work. The person is often fatigued and it feels as though it takes all their energy to get dressed and brushed their teeth. This is also what it is like for the individual who has sustained a brain injury.

Fatigue can be physical and mental.

Fatigue can be physical and mental.

The fatigue that a survivor experiences after being injured is both physical and mental. The physical fatigue comes from relearning daily functions such as walking, talking, eating and dressing oneself. This can be a slow, gruelling process and therefore, exhausting. The mental fatigue comes from the brain being only able to take in so much and then it shuts down. Prior to the brain injury, a person may have been employed in a job that required a great deal of mental work (e.g. accountant) and they could spend 8 hours a day working through columns of numbers. Post injury, they may hit the wall after a short time of reading, talking with people, or even watching television. My experience has been that the survivor will often have a glazed look and exhibit visual signs of having difficulty following the conversation and/or processing the information. The person may not realize it themselves that they need to take a break. It’s important that those supporting them provide cues to take a rest and assure the individual that fatigue is normal post-injury and with time it will get better.

Here are a few suggestions that could help with battling fatigue following a brain injury:

  • Sleep, sleep, sleep. I know this sounds simplistic but getting plenty of sleep after a brain injury is very important to recovery. Your brain needs to rest and sleep allows complete rest.
  • Pace yourself. If you feel refreshed in the morning and tend to hit the wall later in the day, then do the hard work of rehab earlier in the day. If you have completed rehab and still battling fatigue then do work and activities earlier in the day and rest in the afternoon. Plan for an afternoon nap so that you have energy to give to your family and/or to enjoy the remainder of the day and evening.
  • Get some light exercise. The brain requires a tremendous amount of oxygen and glucose; exercise will increase oxygen in the body and therefore, benefit your brain. If you have pain, water exercise is effective.
  • Eat 3 meals a day. Probably the most important point to make is that your body and especially your brain needs fuel, which means you need to eat. Limiting sugar and caffeine and ensuring that you have a balance of fruits, vegetables and complex carbs in your daily meal plan is essential.
  • Be patient with yourself. You will not be able to return to work and regular activity right away. A gradual return will aid in pacing yourself and building up your stamina.

One response to “Brain Injury and Fatigue”

  1. Nanette says:

    These are excellent points. And it can vary from day to day (for example after a day of lots of activity and effort, extra rest may be required). I think that in northern climates (like Minnesota where we live), the darker days and earlier nights of fall and winter can result in increased tiredness too.

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