Providing Support to Someone With a Traumatic Brain Injury


What is a traumatic brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a type of brain damage that occurs as a result of an injury to the head. This type of injury may be non-penetrative, such as a blow to the head, or penetrative, such as a gunshot wound. The severity of a TBI depends on various factors, and the lasting effects can range from a few days to permanent brain damage or, in severe cases, death. A concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury.

Providing support

The effect that a traumatic brain injury has on brain function is typically classified as mild, moderate or severe. Movement and speech may alternate between improving and worsening. Often, individuals process thoughts in “slow motion” following a TBI and need additional care. Below are several ways to provide support to someone with a TBI.

  • If behavior or speech is inappropriate, explain why and suggest a different behavior or why certain things should not be said. Praise the person when they change it.
  • Let the person know what is going to occur before it happens. For example, let them know you are going to brush their hair or change bandaging. Speak slowly in easy to understand terms.
  • Be patient and allow them to search for the words they want to say. It’s okay to offer clues or recommend the word after a minute or so. This can prevent them from becoming frustrated.
  • If incorrect information is shared, gently remind them of the correct information. This may need to be followed with a change of topic if they become annoyed. Avoid telling them to “remember” something or to “talk right.” Be encouraging and give hope.
  • Messages may be understood to be literal. Therefore, use care in statements that are made. For example, when telling someone with a TBI that a task is going to be done, ensure it is completed in the time frame stated.
  • Ignore angry behavior. It is important to remain calm in all situations. Do not make faces or show any type of anger, as this will only further upset the individual with a TBI. Instead, give immediate praise when they have good behavior or speak well. This helps them associate behavior with the feedback.
  • Avoid talking about someone with a TBI as if they are not present. Let them answer questions and give them plenty of time. However, help may need to be provided after a minute or so of them searching for the answer.
  • Sarcasm and jokes may be misunderstood. They may not understand and become confused or irritated. Do not encourage them to answer inappropriately, even as a joke. This causes confusion.