Prepping for Successful Summer Fun – Even with a Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog by Janet Cromer, RN, MA, LMHC

June 22, 2011

Having Fun and Still Meeting the Challenges of My Husband’s Brain Injury

Summer is ripe with parties, cook-outs, baseball games, and time in the great outdoors. For a person who has a brain injury, these social events can present a few challenges as well as fun. For the caregiver, summer traditions can be a chance to give the survivor a hand, while practicing letting him/her be more independent.

Some of the challenges might include sensitivity to sensory overload, communication considerations, meeting new people, being responsible around alcohol, and fatigue.

My husband Alan was usually eager to try new activities. I was more aware of the preparation that assured that an event became a successful experience. Together we worked out some strategies to deal with common challenges.

  1. Plan in advance as much as possible. When invited to a cook-out, we asked about the setting, the number of guests, any planned games or activities, and what we could bring. Sounds fussy, I know, but anticipatory planning helped us decide how to keep the stimulation tolerable, how to contribute to the fun, and who Alan could look forward to talking with.
  2. Keep stimulation from overwhelming. Alan was easily disturbed by loud music, too many people talking at once, and being in the heat too long. Sometimes we even brought ear plugs! Find a shady spot on the edge of the group, and get up to take a short walk when needed. I asked a few people to talk with Alan 1:1 over the afternoon, and explained the best way to communicate: let him finish his sentence, don’t supply the word he’s searching for. We even asked in advance for a quiet room inside where Alan could take a “time-out.”
  3. Build confidence by showing your strengths.Alan was shy about talking to people he didn’t know well. He prepared by picking a few current events that interested him, and writing a few talking points on an index card in advance. When he wanted to talk he’d say, “Have you heard about this story?” and whip out his card. He also loved the Reader’s Digest Humor annual humor issue. He practiced delivering the punch lines at home, then brought the magazine to the party as his “teleprompter.” Sometimes he brought a craft project to show and tell.
  4. Know what’s best for your health. Alcohol and other recreational drugs have a way of showing up at parties. Honor your health and brain function by not letting others push you into drinking. Carry a soda, change the subject, and notice how foolish some drinkers act.
  5. Know when enough is enough. We learned that it was better to take a nibble of a fun event and leave before Alan became exhausted or overwhelmed. Caregivers deserve to have fun too! So, occasionally I arranged to have a nephew visit with Alan while I went to an event with my friends.
  6. Check out summer medical considerations. Ask your health care provider if your medications or condition make you more vulnerable to sunburn or overheating. Many do! Always wear sunscreen, sun glasses and a hat. Drink plenty of water, and take breaks in the shade.

My motto was “Be prepared!” However, my very wise husband often suggested a spontaneous picnic in the park or walk by the pond. Summer is the best time for spontaneity too!

2 responses to “Prepping for Successful Summer Fun – Even with a Brain Injury”

  1. Janet Cromer says:

    Thank you Marilyn. Another great idea Alan came up with was to “rest his brain” on the days when we planned to socialize. That meant he avoided reading the newspaper or watching TV that day so he could conserve his brain’s energy and concentration. He even took a nap before going out.

    Most friends appreciated my suggestions for how to talk with Alan. You’re so right- they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or confusing him. Often they found that he still liked the same subjects he liked before the brain injury.

  2. Marilyn Lash says:

    Dear Janet,
    This is such good advice – too many people become isolated when they feel overwhelmed, frustrated or confused in a social outing – and simply give up going out. The resulting isolation can be detrimental for both the person with a brain injury and the caregiver.

    I especially like your tips on how your husband communicates with friends – as well as your suggestions for them. I find that friends want to give their support but are too often uncertain how to do it and their discomfort can also lead to their avoidance. Your very practical and common sense approach helped your husband use his abilities while still being aware of his limitations and preventing an outing from turning into a disaster.

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