Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation Psychology Division Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Pat #21

DEAR PAT: My sister (she's in her mid-20's) had a traumatic brain injury during a car accident almost one year ago. She's been home from the hospital for several months and is doing a lot better. She continues to have weakness on the right side of her body and some memory problems, though. Also, her confidence seems low. I wonder if she'll ever get back to being like she was before the accident. How long does it take to get better after a severe brain injury? What can I do to help her? Thanks, Pat!

PAT'S RESPONSE: Bravo and keep up the good work! It sounds like you care a lot about your sister and want the very best for her. Now that she has been home for a while, you have a chance to look toward the future. Help her anticipate new challenges that may surface. Provide support and encouragement when they do. A little "sisterly love" goes a long way.

In response to your question about recovery time, the short answer is, "It depends." Recovery from brain injury--as you are learning first hand--is usually a long-term process. People may recover quite rapidly in the first six months to a year after their injuries. Then, people tend to find the rate of recovery slows down. The good news is that most individuals continue to recover for some time, just at a more gradual pace than before. Others find their physical or cognitive problems seem to linger on indefinitely. Your sister is far from the "indefinite" phase of recovery. Her problems with motor weakness and forgetfulness may continue to improve. It depends on a number of factors including her own individual strengths (supportive family, motivation, young age) or challenges (severity of brain damage, access to rehabilitation resources), whether this will be the case.

Never stop working toward improvement! Recovery depends on what you do to help it along. To make the most of her progress, your sister should keep regular visits with doctors and specialists trained in rehabilitation (e.g., physical and occupational therapists, neuropsychologists, and physiatrists). Talking to other people about her condition may help renew confidence lost after the accident. Rehabilitation counselors and support groups offer a caring environment for guidance and education about surviving brain injury. Strategies to overcome and/or adjust to memory problems can be developed with the help of a rehabilitation psychologist. Many people find talking with others that have survived brain injuries helps them better manage their own adjustment. Go to a support group for family members of survivors, kind sister, and take advantage of the companionship and understanding you too deserve.

DEAR PAT: My life is in a rut. I do the same thing every day and see the same few people. Life is so dull and lacks luster. Plus, it's been three years since I had a head injury and I haven't been out on a date since. At first, I was too busy getting well to worry about dating. I didn't know what the future had in store for me. Over time, I've found that I don't have as much in common with the people I used to have as good friends. I'm trying to think of ways to meet new people (maybe even someone special) and to find different activities that are more in line with who I am today. Help!

PAT'S RESPONSE: Could this be a case of the "winter blahs" or something more terminal like "love sickness?" Either way, you are not alone. We all experience times in our lives that seem a little too familiar and routine. Are you ready to make some changes, shake off the snow, crawl out of hibernation, etc.? If so, read on…

First, give yourself some credit for taking the time to get better after your injury. Reliable schedules and familiar people make the recovery time easier for most people. Second, Pat suggests you take stock in your life. What other areas may need a make-over (besides your love life)? When was the last time you picked up a new hobby, tried a different sport, took a class, or went to the library and browsed the aisles? These types of activities not only improve the "inner" you, but also increase your exposure to new ideas and people. When you broaden your range of interests, you increase the chances others will be interested in you! Third, you may want to consider ways to accentuate your outward appearance as well. Ask yourself (and answer) these types of questions to see where you could improve your "people skills."

* Would others consider you a warm and friendly person?
* Are you a good listener and show interest in the other person during conversations?
* Do you make the most of your appearance (neat haircut, clean clothes, big smile)?

If you're kind to yourself, cultivate new interests, and appear approachable, you are well on your way to being a good friend to yourself and someone else. Good Luck!

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