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Tips for Returning to Your Normal Routine After a Brain Injury

Bearded man with headache applying ice bag while sitting on the couch at home

Recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion after a car accident or work incident can be a long process. Fortunately, many people can return to their normal activities within several weeks after a mild TBI.

The most important things a brain injury victim can do is communicate with their doctors, protect themself from re-injury, get quality sleep, and learn healthy strategies to cope with any lingering symptoms.

Be Honest With Your Doctor

Be honest with yourself and your doctors regarding your symptoms. If you feel you are getting better, be as specific as possible in letting your doctors know how you are improving, but also let them know the areas where you still have residual symptoms.

The same is true if you feel your condition is not improving. Don’t sugarcoat it or consider it whining or complaining.

Understanding your condition will help your doctor decide what additional tests are needed and whether to add or modify prescriptions. The doctor may need to cut back on the frequency or the intensity of your therapy or exercise program. In some situations, there may need to be referrals to specialists for more evaluations.

A good rule of thumb for you to use with every medical appointment: start from the top of your head and go to the tip of your toes. Let them know about all of your injuries and symptoms.

Protect Yourself From Re-Injury

The time between the initial incident that injured your brain and the day your doctor clears you from needing further treatment is a delicate period. Further injury to the brain could have severe or deadly consequences.

Here are things to avoid while recovering from a TBI:

  • Avoid any unnecessary movement of your head and neck, particularly quick motions. You do not want your brain jostling around inside your skull.
  • Avoid bright lights if you find yourself sensitive to them. Shaded glasses can help you manage sensitivity during sunny days. However, do not wear sunglasses for extended periods as this could exacerbate the brain’s sensitivity to light.
  • Avoid loud noises. If you are sensitive to loud sounds, leave the room or avoid situations where you can potentially be exposed. Consider using noise-canceling headphones, if necessary.
  • Avoid prolonged screen time exposure. You should reduce the amount of time you spend looking at a computer monitor, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or television. It is recommended that you “unplug” from the screen at least two hours before sleeping.
  • Avoid the following foods and stimulants:
    • Too much salt
    • Too much sugar
    • Too many processed foods
    • Too many fast foods
    • Supplements or vitamins without your treating doctor’s recommendation
    • Too much caffeine. Studies show that caffeine blocks the release of adenosine, a neuro-protective agent that brings down inflammation and promotes brain healing. Caffeine is also a vasoconstrictor, meaning it constricts the blood vessels in the brain, which in turn reduces blood flow. Without enough cerebral blood flow, the brain cannot get the vital nutrients needed to repair itself. Consuming one or two cups of coffee a day will not severely affect you since the caffeine in a cup of coffee is not high enough to cause damage. If you do choose to drink coffee, it is best to consume it before 10 a.m.
    • Energy drinks
    • Alcohol
    • Smoking
    • Drugs

Fatigue

If you find yourself constantly fatigued, it may be because you have developed a sleep disorder. One of the most common sleep disorders after a brain injury is known as sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. This can lead to an over-abundance of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream causing extreme fatigue while you are awake.

It may be beneficial to have an overnight sleep study to diagnose any sleep disorders you might have. Risks of untreated sleep apnea include high blood pressure, diabetes, concentration and memory problems, depression, and heart failure.

Returning to Work and School

Many studies have shown that a return to work for TBI patients can improve their overall quality of life and help offset some of the financial issues that arise from being out of work. However, it is important to acknowledge that patients who have sustained a TBI will often experience symptoms that make their return to work challenging.

According to the Mayo Clinic, patients with TBIs may often display memory, attention, and cognitive issues. They may have difficulty making decisions, starting or completing projects, maintaining self-control or self-awareness, and controlling mood swings.

The Brain Injury Association of America recommends that patients should consider a gradual return to work. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers that are subject to the act to make a reasonable accommodation to “the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship.” Reasonable accommodations could include:

  • modifying work schedules/hours
  • job restructuring or reassignment to a position that better meets the special needs of the worker with the TBI
  • written instructions/guidelines/checklists for performing tasks
  • allowing more frequent breaks
  • moving to an environment with less noise

Communicate with your employer and your colleagues while out of work and as you prepare to return to the workplace.

Post-TBI Recovery Tips

1. Accept the fact that you will have good days and bad days.

Most people do not feel a sense of “normalcy” until 3 to 4 weeks after the TBI. Sometimes the healing process may take even longer, especially if the patient had prior concussions. It’s okay to be positive about your return to work, but be realistic — know and abide by your limitations.

As you prepare to return to work, you can try to start mimicking your work hours. Wake up when you would ordinarily begin your day, get ready for work, and do light tasks to see how well you can tolerate being up and active. Take breaks and your mealtime as you would throughout your workday. If you work at a desk with a computer, try and simulate this activity at home.

You may not realize that you haven’t fully recovered from your brain injury until you attempt a return to everyday activities.

2. Be ready to take breaks.

Ease back into work, especially if your job requires concentration or physical effort. Don’t strain yourself.

3. Beware of mood swings and some irritability.

It is easy to get annoyed after a TBI. You may not physically be at your best or getting enough sleep. Ask your family, friends, and even your co-workers for some help and support.

When you feel an outburst of emotion bubbling up, try to relax your mind and body. Breathe deep. Take a moment to step away from the situation to relax and reduce the stress.

4. You may forget things more often.

Memory problems are common for people who have sustained a TBI. Hopefully, your memory will improve over time. Practice writing things down that you need to remember. Taking notes or keeping a checklist is an effective way to stay organized.

5. Dizziness or nausea symptoms may occur, especially if you move quickly or change positions.

Slow down and take your time to avoid sudden movements. Take this into account if you are having to stand for extended periods or walk long distances. Plan ahead to try and break the amount of time you stand or walk into smaller lengths of time or distance.

6. Balance problems may occur.

Balance issues are a common symptom, so take everything a little bit slower. Give your brain a chance to adjust. Use the handrails when navigating stairs and escalators. Use a cane or walker if you are concerned about your safety while walking or standing.

7. Fatigue is a sign that you need to rest.

You may feel yourself getting tired sooner than in the past. This is because your brain is running on less energy than usual. You also may get tired from doing small tasks. You will need to build up strength and practice getting back to pre-injury levels of energy.

8. Comprehending what people are telling you, what you are reading, or what you may see on a screen may take longer.

Don’t be ashamed. Ask the person to repeat the conversation, the directions, or explain things in greater detail. Your processing speed has been greatly reduced from the TBI.

9. Some patients report a ringing in their ears when they start increasing their activity level.

Tinnitus could be caused by damage to your inner ear after the TBI. The symptom usually goes away after a few days. Make sure you tell your healthcare provider if this symptom occurs.

10. Do not put yourself or others in harm’s way.

If you perform a high-risk job, such as working around heavy machinery or on ladders, don’t engage until you feel you can do it safely and your healthcare provider agrees and releases you to do the work. This is especially true if you experience vertigo or balance issues.

Receiving Compensation for Your TBI

If your concussion or TBI was caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be able to pursue financial compensation for your injuries. A personal injury claim can cover medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses that you’ve suffered.

You shouldn’t have to suffer financially after an accident that wasn’t your fault. Contact our Atlanta brain injury attorneys today for a free consultation regarding your incident.

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