10 Keys to Recovery: For the Brain Injury Survivor and Their Caregiver:

KEY TO RECOVERY NO. 5: Do Everything in Moderation/Regain Mobility.

Just before we brought David home from the rehabilitation center, he weighed an alarming 89 pounds. They had not removed the G-tube from his stomach as we had asked them to do, so he was able to eat normal food without supplemental feedings.

In my quest to fatten him up, I encouraged him to eat, and eat he did. My brother-in-law had warned me that he might gain weight and to be cautious, but I did not heed his warning. In a matter of months, David had gained a staggering 40 pounds and he needed clothes to accommodate this condition.

David was never big on exercise before his accident, so it was no surprise when he didn’t like the exercise programs my sister came up with. We got around this by inventing things to do around his normal therapy sessions. A wonderful woman gifted us a kayak paddle that was used to stretch his arms over his head, as there was right side deficits. He folded clothes, took my sister’s dog for a walk, washed dishes by hand, and for lack of things to do, even made him take things out of one cupboard to put them into another.

Headaches were an issue at first and they followed a pattern. Trying to analyze just when these headaches would show up, we determined that if David exerted himself too much, he’d have a headache. But he does like to be busy so we devised ways to make him move and that’s where moderation comes in.

I didn’t sign David up at the Y – or a gym, because too much exertion could lead to other things; frustration, over stimulation, or the onset of a headache. We slowly got David off the sofa and out into the world. It takes time and patience, but now he bowls on a league, rides a therapeutic horse at Naples Equestrian Challenge, attends our monthly support group and social events for Miracles Among Us, does volunteer work, and socializes with the Friends for the Developmentally Disabled. I’d say he’s come a long way on his road to recovery, however, his Aphasia doesn’t allow for conversation. He has a job two afternoons a week and he is saving for a new watch.

10 Keys to Recovery: For the Brain Injury Survivor and Their Caregiver: KEY TO RECOVERY NO. 4: Retrain Your Brain.

Through the years, we have learned about neuroplasticity, and how it plays a role in the recovery of a brain injury survivor. This is the term that refers to changes in neural pathways, which could be due are due to changes in one’s environment, behavior, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury. Actually, anyone can benefit from this…especially as we age.

Mind Games:  There are many things available to stimulate and retrain your brain. We used several suggestions that Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who lived through her own stroke used to help herself come back. (My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.) Some of the activities she used to regain her memories, were adapted for our son when he didn’t seem motivated.

In general, puzzles, brain teasers, and matching games are a great way to stimulate your brain. Watching uplifting programs, listening to CDs with healing messages are also ways to promote healing and creativity. David does the daily search-a-word puzzle in the newspaper, and seems to enjoy his adult coloring books, often uses his tablet to do free puzzles, memory, and matching games.

We originally communicated with David by writing short notes to him. He had a laminated color-coded placard that told him what medication he was supposed to take each day. Then we wrote notes and taped them to his bathroom mirror as to how to do his grooming, etc., and then added notes to cupboards in the kitchen, when certain TV programs were on what channel, added notes to the dashboard of the car, and even ones for the refrigerator and freezer doors!

 Music Therapy:  David was an accomplished guitar player before his accident. He sold his ‘riffs’ to musicians who came into his recording studio to lay down tracks for their original albums. Because music had been such a large part of his life pre-accident, I went in search of someone who could work with him. Eventually, we found a teacher who had enormous patience…who knew David could read music and worked to help him regain (or retain) that part of his brain in order not to lose that music side of himself. It helped restore his confidence, although he has since given up his ‘lessons’, he does practice once in a while.

Eventually, we found a teacher who had enormous patience…who knew David could read music and worked to help him regain (or retain) that part of his brain in order not to lose that music side of himself. It helped restore his confidence, although he has since given up his ‘lessons’, he does practice once in a while.

10 Keys to Recovery: For the Brain Injury Survivor and Their Caregiver

As usual, life events get in the way of the best laid plans and that is what happened to me and my blog. It seems that no matter how much I want to share our journey; it will not happen unless I just do it! So, starting now, I am making a commitment to everyone that I will discipline myself and blog on a more consistent basis.

In previous blogs, we covered a lot of ground, but it was mostly related to the period of time just after David’s accident. Now I am changing my focus to how we have been coping during our almost decade of working with David and watching him slowly regain his new personality.

Then I want to share our 10 Keys to Recovery – something we practice on a daily basis. This is what works for us as a family and helps us address difficult issues as we continue to learn about brain injury.

KEY TO RECOVERY NO. 1 – part one: Grieve for the sense of loss of who you were.

As a family, we didn’t know that as we were going through the ‘stages of grief’, that David also had to come to terms with his own ‘sense of loss’ of who he was. It was through trial and error, and we now know that David’s journey of recovery will not fully begin, until he forgives himself, because somehow he feels that he’s responsible for his accident.

He asked me recently why he stood up in the moving vehicle. My answer to him was that it was simply an accident…when you forgive yourself, you can move on.

David also exhibits anger, but the anger is not directed toward me, but toward himself. Why do people with brain injury do this? Is it so that they don’t have to feel pain? Is it a smokescreen? We have been told that being angry is okay, as it sometimes temporarily protects us from having to recognize and deal with our painful real feelings.

Life is a journey, when it throws you off balance, give yourself time to grief, then straighten yourself up, and get on with life. It is not the end of the world…for some, it is the beginning.

David: play his guitar, helping around the house, continues to this day, to overcome the aphasia part of his injury. On occasion do we have to redirect his attention that comes with the ‘Swiss cheese’ affect, that has robbed him of some of his memories and his ability to recall things.

As David slowly remembers his former life, he goes back to grief about it. It’s unnerving to talk him through whatever is bothering him. It does not help to question why he is sad or try to reason with him. So the best thing we can do is tell him that we love and support him, then walk away so he can work through it.

We are all slowly regaining our ‘sense of self’, which allowed us to focus on other aspects of life.