A brain injury affects the entire family, and most importantly children who are very vulnerable and dependent on their family.
I just read a very compelling article in the most recent edition of the journal, Brain Injury, a publication of the North America Brain Injury Association also known as NABIS entitled , “The Forgotten Children—The Aftermath of an Acquired Brain Injury in the Family”.
The authors observe an acquired brain injury has not only an impact on the survivor, who frequently has physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social difficulties; but will also affect his or her family;
members of that family unit must adapt to a novel life situation in which family dynamics, involving roles, boundaries and communication will most likely change.
Studies of family dynamics exploring living with a brain injured family member, have found high levels of distress, significant symptoms of depression and anxiety, decreased quality of life and reduced family functioning. Divorce, job loss and high health care costs also exist in this population.
So, we need to spend more time and attention on these significant issues, especially in the most vulnerable group, children.
Children are not prepared to deal with the injury and the stress the injury has on their parent or sibling, and the entire family.
Children are at a high risk for development of significant and long-lasting mental health issues including post-traumatic stress, reduced self-esteem, sadness, worry, anxiety and depression. These issues will also affect their education and social skills.
So, what suggestions do the authors of this article offer?
Children’s well-being requires adult support to minimize the risk of serious consequences.
They cannot be ignored by medical personnel in the acute care, and rehabilitation process nor can they be ignored in the home or in school. Their identity and worth must be recognized and validated and they cannot be ignored. Their fears must be discussed, and attention needs to be focused on the frequent role reversal that takes place where a child now must assist a parent.
Here are specific suggestions:
More research needs to take place on specific initiatives and interventions required to support children following a brain injury in the family.
Children need to be part of the rehabilitation process, including access to and reimbursement for required care. An acquired or traumatic brain injury affects the entire family.