May is a big month for Headway, the brain injury association. The 20th May 2019 marks the start of Brain Injury Week, an annual campaign to raise awareness of brain injury in the UK; and during this period, on 24th May 2019, Headway will be celebrating their 40th birthday! Everyone is being encouraged to wear a party hat for the day and to donate £2 to help improve the lives of those affected by brain injury.
Headway was conceived in 1979 after Sir Neville Butterworth sought specialist holiday accommodation for his son who had a brain injury. As a result of his search, a multi-disciplinary group of therapists, social workers and health professionals convened and decided to create a new charitable institution focused on the care of those with head injuries. Since then, Headway has opened a number of dedicated rehabilitation homes across the country and over 125 support groups and branches. The charity has continued to expand its range of services, and in 2011, recruited their first Headway Acute Trauma Support (HATS) nurses, to provide specialist support in neurological trauma units.
Understanding the less obvious impact of brain injury
What charitable institutions such as Headway and others like them understand is that brain injury can have far-reaching impacts for those affected, and these can be subtle in nature. One such symptom is fatigue. What differentiates fatigue due to brain injury and ‘normal’ fatigue is that the latter naturally lifts after rest; the former can be more intense and persistent, and in some cases significantly restrict what individuals can do in a given day. According to Headway, with some planning and understanding, this often-forgotten aspect of brain injury can be managed effectively; they recommend:
- Becoming more aware of your mood – by understanding how you feel, and when you might not have the energy to commit to a task, you can ensure you don’t take on more than you can cope with.
- Pacing yourself – it is important to prioritise how you expend what little energy you have and to rely on the assistance of others when necessary.
- Pace your sleep – it is essential following a head injury to implement a healthy sleep routine. This means establishing a regular pattern for when you go to bed and removing distractions such as TVs, computers, and mobile phones, which will prevent you from falling asleep. It is also recommended to avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee, or chocolate, and anything which can add to your worries or stress levels. Anything you can do to relax, including a bath, or reading a book will also assist with your sleep.
- Exercise – by putting in place a regular exercise routine, preferably at least 30 minutes per day, you can increase your overall energy levels, and improve your sleep.
- Nutrition – Choosing a diet which is not only high in nutrition but has a low glycaemic index (low-GI), especially avoiding fast-releasing carbs including sugary drinks, biscuits, and sugary cereals will ensure you can maintain steady energy throughout the day. It is also crucial to ensure you keep hydrated with plenty of water, in preference to stimulating tea, coffee and fizzy drinks.
- Modify your medication – some medications may exacerbate tiredness. If you have any such concerns, speak to your doctor or GP who may be able to find alternatives which do not deplete your energy.
- Consider your environment – ask for a referral to an occupational therapist who can advise on simple adaptations and changes you can make to your home and work environment. When energy levels are in such short supply, even minor techniques to conserve energy can make the difference between becoming tired early in the day and making it through to bedtime. Changes such as avoiding heavy lifting, avoiding poor lighting, and asking for assistance where needed, can make all the difference.
- Be strategic – adopt simple strategies to make life easier, such as establishing a day-time routine, having reminder lists, and placing step-by-step instructions around the house to remind you how to complete some tasks.
Remembering to care for the carer
Often, while the needs of the individual with the brain-injury are being met, it is essential that the well-being of the person/s providing care is taken into consideration. Head Injury Awareness Week provides a welcome reminder of this fact. A survey of carers by Headway show the extent to which carers need as much support as possible. The research showed that 60% of brain injury carers feel they do not receive adequate support in their caring duties, and approximately 7% of brain injury carers receive help from social workers in their caring duties. And if anyone is in any doubt as to the pressure and stress placed on carers of those with head injuries, reading about the daily account of Janet Malcolm will leave you under no illusions. Janet, whose husband Andy suffered a stroke in 2014, recounts just a single day, which starts at 8am and does not stop until 10pm when she helps him to bed. Such accounts demonstrate both the sterling efforts of the many thousands of carers across the UK.
It is for this reason that you should consider wearing a party hat on 24th May 2019 and encourage your friends, family, and workmates to do so too. Every penny raised will go to supporting those in society who suffer a serious and life-changing head injury, and the families and carers on whom they are wholly reliant.
If you wish to talk about any of the points raised in this article, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.