The Growing Focus on Families During TBI Rehabilitation

Traumatic brain injuries, often considered invisible injuries since no physical signs can indicate their existence to others, have the potential to be completely life altering. As a patient with a TBI might undergo distressing behavior and cognitive changes, the patient’s family is left to bear the burden of staying positive and supportive on the surface while simultaneously coping with the grief brought on by such a devastating and unexpected injury. Over time, relationships can suffer under the strain brought on by the life-changing aspects of traumatic brain injuries.

As the NFL and other sports organizations bring TBIs into the spotlight, many TBI recovery advocates are overhauling their programs to more efficiently include families in the rehabilitation process. Instead of suffering caregiver burnout and feeling isolated by so many responsibilities, family members can use these new recovery treatments for support.

One clinic at UCLA focuses on treating military veterans that have suffered TBIs and post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead of limiting their treatment to the veterans themselves, UCLA is now opening its doors to the patients’ families that have also struggled through the TBI experience. Melanie Gideon, the director of this Operation Mend, explained that families are too often forced to suffer alone as their wounded veterans experience a confusing and distressing process of recovery. Gideon’s program aims to fill that void.

Operation Mend can accommodate between seven and ten veterans- and their families, and even their dogs!- for a total of six weeks. For the first three weeks the families live on UCLA’s campus in Tiverton House, and the last half of the program they can return home. Family members are able to attend every treatment session with the patient to learn the many complexities involved in permanently recovering from a TBI.

So far, the results have been encouraging, promising, and inspiring. Many families arrived at Operation Mend feeling hopeless, frightened, and devastated by the changes TBIs wrought on their lives. Some couples were on the brink of divorce, and other patients had suffered fractured relationships with their parents and children. After six weeks with the UCLA program, the same family members were able to handle the reality of TBI recovery with a large foundation of tools to help their loved ones and lead them successfully down the road of recovery.

These programs are absolutely life-changing, and we can only hope that more and more organizations put them in place. With just six weeks of treatment, TBI patients and their loved ones gained invaluable help and hope.