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Support for families after a brain injury

Understanding the challenges post brain injury

Brain injury, we know, affects all members of a family and their close social network. It is widely accepted that this impact can be as devastating for the close family members as it is for the survivor themselves. Chris Hearne-Sirman, Specialist Social Worker at Livability Icanho shares his advice, expertise and experience in coping with life after brain injury.

Livability Icanho

At Livability Icanho we work with the whole family unit and believe that this is paramount in order to provide effective treatment and support and to maximise the rehabilitation journey. Families play a major role in rehabilitation and recovery and it is important that they have the support they need, both for themselves and for their loved one.

Brain injury and what the family needs

There is no ‘typical’ response to brain injury or a right or wrong way to feel. What we do know is that families will have a wide range of information, education and support needs throughout recovery and it is important that they have access to this during this time.

Some may benefit from sharing experiences with others in a similar situation whilst others may find1:1 support, advice and guidance suits them more. At Livability Icanho we work hard to provide support to the whole family in a way that’s accessible for all.

Some common challenges that families often face after brain injury include:

  • Understanding and making sense of the complexity of the brain injury
  • Understanding and making sense of the what that their loved one could do before and now can’t
  • Dealing with their own fears, worries, anxieties and emotions
  • Coping with a changed relationship (emotional, physical, sexual, psychological)
  • Adjusting to new roles and responsibilities in the family unit
  • Supporting themselves and other family members and friends
  • Managing the complex financial challenges many face after brain injury

This list is far from exhaustive, more a snapshot. It shows some of the areas Livability Icanho can help your family with. We provide highly specialised community-based rehabilitation and we understand the value in working together, so your loved one gets the right programme of treatment and support.

Advice and what to expect

Spouses and partners

Spouses and partners of people with a brain injury may experience a number of issues and challenges. These may include dealing with the loss of their life partner (and associated loss of life plans), their sexual partner, their support and, where there are children present, their co-parent.

Spouses may find marriage challenging following brain injury where there has been a significant personality change. They may want to separate but feel unable to due to a sense of duty, guilt and fear. The truth is that some relationships do breakdown after brain injury but by no means all. Research indicates that the rate of marital breakdown after brain injury is higher than the general population and is one of many reasons why talking amongst yourselves and to your clinical team is so important.

Family responsibilities

They may also face challenges taking on new roles and responsibilities within the family finding that they suddenly become responsible for the majority of the household tasks which may feel overwhelming. They may become the sole financial earner in the household, adding further stress and strain. Spouses may become the survivors main carer which can naturally, have a huge impact on the relationship. Taking on primary carer responsibility is often associated with the loss of sexual relationship as the spouse takes on more of a parental rather than marital role. Care giving can also lead to spouses sacrificing their own needs in order to care for their loved one. in which has an impact on the carers quality of life.

Children in the family

Spouses may feel additional strain and responsibility where there are dependent children in the family. They may feel unsure about their loved ones ability to cope with parenting post brain injury. They may feel torn between their caring role for their loved one, wanting to empower and promote parenting whilst also safeguarding their children’s well-being. It can be beneficial to discuss these concerns with your therapy team.

Parents of adult children who suffer a brain injury may also find unique challenges, namely differences of opinion as to how their ‘child’ should be cared for. Differences of opinion between the parents and spouses are not uncommon and these can lead to relationship breakdowns.


Friends of adults experiencing brain injury also experience a wide range of emotions. They are, however, far less likely to receive the support, understanding and education of closes members of the family and therefore may struggle to understand and manage their emotions. Friends may not see the deficits the survivor is left with or, conversely, may over-compensate and do for rather than empower. There are many examples where friendships become stronger after brain injury, however, others can become strained and friendships lost.

Advice and support

In summary it is worth remembering that no two brain injuries are the same; similarly no two families are the same. Therefore it follows that your experience of brain injury will be different from that of other families. If this is something that you are struggling with, Livability Icanho offer comprehensive assessment, rehabilitation and guidance with dedicated support for families.

Chris is a specialist social worker and senior clinician who has worked in health and social care for almost 20 years. After specialising in mental health he had the opportunity to further specialise in the neuro-rehabilitation field which led to him joining the team at Livability Icanho. His role spans one to one support, emotional and psychological support, practical advice and information for both family members/carers and clients.

I am a strong believer and advocate for Livability and share in the values and inclusive vision. I have many responsibilities in what is a very emotionally challenging role which demands me to be a great communicator, professional and empathetic.
Chris Hearne-Sirman

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