Changing dynamics – family life after brain injury
When someone has an accident which results in a brain injury, there is usually a huge amount of uncertainty about what the future may hold. What are their chances of a recovery? How well might they recover? How much support are they going to need? What are the financial implications? These are just a few of the many questions that family members are grappling with, in between hospital visits and medical appointments.
Seek advice from a solicitor
Contacting a lawyer may not be high on the list of activities, especially if someone does not have mental capacity or cannot remember the details of the accident, and it is natural to focus on their health needs first and foremost. However, for adults there is a time limit of just three years in which someone can claim compensation if you believe that someone else is at fault.
‘Our solicitors are happy to speak to any family members about an accident – and we make no charge for this initial consultation,’ says Samantha Pegg. ‘We recognise that the whole family can be affected by the ripple effects of a serious accident. Talking to a solicitor means that you can get an early opinion about whether the person who was injured might be eligible for compensation and if so, we can support them by gathering evidence, carrying out research and helping to obtain appropriate support.’
Samantha, who is a paralegal in the personal injury law team at Geoffrey Leaver Solicitors, has a particular understanding of how family members can be affected as she is engaged to someone who sustained a traumatic brain injury in a road traffic accident several years ago.
While at university in 2016, her fiancée was out running and was hit by a car at speed when crossing the road. She was taken to hospital with top-to-toe injuries including a subdural hematoma which led to a severe traumatic brain injury. A month-long stay in hospital was necessary to give her the best chance of recovery
Despite being told that she might not run again by the medical team, Sam’s fiancée was determined to prove otherwise, and went on to relearn to walk, run and drive. She returned to university, attaining her BSc Hons in Sport and Exercise Science and MPhil in Sport Psychology, qualifying as a personal trainer, and now works with people with chronic health conditions.
The effects of any brain injury accident can be long-lasting, even following an immediate recovery, and long term effects can include issues such as memory, word recall, fatigue, headaches and even post-traumatic stress.
Compensation can make a difference
Fortunately, Sam’s fiancée has the benefit of a package of compensation, which was negotiated by her solicitor in an out-of-court settlement. This means that she can draw on private medical support, including regular physiotherapy and psychotherapy and provides her the freedom to manage her workload without added financial worries.
Having known each other since their school days and together as a couple for the last three years, Samantha and her partner have learnt to navigate the unique challenges that can come with the after-effects of a major accident and to make adjustments to accommodate neurodiversity, Samantha was keen to share a few insights from her experience.
‘I recently attended a conference about brain injuries in children, and naturally there was a lot of talk about the issues facing parents. But serious accidents happen to people of all ages, and there doesn’t seem to be as much information available for how partners and other family members can support their loved one,’ says Sam.
‘It is important to accept that recovery is not linear, and each person will be different, so you cannot predict how things will develop. This makes it challenging for the whole family, as everyone will grieve the life they had before – especially the person who sustained the injury. Of course, family life will change, but that isn’t to say it won’t still be as rich or fulfilling, just maybe in a different way. Ultimately you are still a family.’
Challenges and adjustments
We asked Samantha what she thought were the biggest challenges and the most important factors in moving forward as a family:
‘The person with the brain injury is still the person you love, they may behave or think differently to how you remember them, but they are still that person with the same sense of humour and kindness. The early months or years can be challenging whilst the person with the brain injury relearns how to interact with the world. Patience is the word of the day, both for yourself and the person who is recovering.’
Samantha shared five key tips for family members:
Communication – You will have to relearn how to communicate with each other. Being honest and being able to apologise will go a long way towards managing and smoothing the natural frustrations and challenges that can come with the disinhibition and the highs and lows of a brain injury. Throw out the rulebook of social norms and just find what works for you.’
Mental health. For everyone involved – and when each person is ready – you will need to find healthy avenues of support. It is important that everyone has space for feelings and fears to be validated without it becoming emotionally charged or assigning blame unfairly.
Autonomy. It can be easy to want to wrap someone up in bubble wrap and protect them from everyone and themselves., The person is still an individual. They have their own wants, dreams, fears, and ideas, even if they may be different to what they were before. Whilst also listening to their medical team, support that person in their own choices as much as possible. It is easy to become paternalistic, which may not be welcome.
Pacing. This is a skill you will need to develop. While a brain injury may make certain activities more challenging, by learning to manage everyone’s energy and emotional bandwidth you will get more out of life in the long run. It can be difficult to reassess previous expectations or priorities, but by consistently choosing your family’s happiness and wellbeing it becomes instinctive and automatic.
Support: It is important to find support where you can and not to expect too much too soon, including from yourself.
How our lawyers can help
The solicitors at Geoffrey Leaver work with a number of the specialist brain injury and accident charities, so they know what support is available and can quickly make useful introductions.
There are several good resources and avenues available to you, such as with community head injury teams, local peer support groups, and charities such as Headway, or the Brain Injury Trust, and often support is available for the family.
National newspaper headlines make clear how stretched the NHS is, and taking legal action is an important option which may provide a person with a brain injury with the financial means to overcome any shortfall in what is available through national services and charities.
If you are supporting someone who has had an accident and may be eligible for compensation, then your solicitor will become a key member of your support team. Personal injury claims can take many months, and sometimes years, to draw to a conclusion especially where the circumstances are complex or where the long-term health needs are not immediately obvious.
However, if liability can be established, then we may also be able to secure interim funding to ensure the necessary treatment as soon as possible. As Samantha emphasises, ‘It is always worth giving us a call, as we do not charge a fee for an initial consultation – and you can be assured that we really understand what you are going through.’
To find out more about how our personal injury team may be able to help you claim compensation following an accident that was not your fault, please contact Navdip Gill on 01908 689375 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a free and no obligation initial consultation.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.