Coping with brain injury: The impact of acquired brain injury on families and caregivers

11 August 2017

The impact and consequences of an acquired brain injury (ABI) can reach far beyond the injured survivor. Relationships and family roles can be instantly and dramatically changed and no family unit can ever be truly prepared to deal with an ABI, especially when it occurs through someone else’s fault.

The trauma of hospital, returning home and adjusting to the new day-to-day strain of undertaking caring responsibilities, can place an enormous burden on the entire family structure. The sudden effect of an ABI can leave little time for those around the survivor to understand and process the situation, leading to feelings of anger, frustration, denial and hopelessness.

Effects of brain injury

Depending on the part of the brain affected and the severity of the injury, the result on any one individual can differ greatly. Survivors could be affected by a variety of these problems, in varying degrees, at different points in their recovery:

  • Physical impact – excessive tiredness is common for most individuals who sustain a brain injury, even minor wounds.  It can lead to reduced mobility and sensory perception, as balance and co-ordination can also be affected. The individual may even need to rely on mobility aids to walk in either the short or long term. 
  • Cognitive changes  - this can include short-term memory loss, slowed responses, lack of motivation and impaired reasoning, judgement and problem solving abilities.
  • Emotional and behavioural effects – an individual’s personality may change after sustaining a brain injury. They may experience mood swings and sudden emotional outbursts. Depression is also quite common and anxiety and frustration may become difficult to control.

The impact on the family

It can start with the acute stress at the time of the injury, when those around the injured individual are attending hospital and hoping for signs of recovery.  In some cases it can be impossible to assess the long-term impact of the injury at this early stage and it can be a daunting experience for those involved when the road to recovery can look so uncertain.

Close family members are likely to suffer high levels of stress and anxiety in the period following the injury. The ambiguity of the situation often makes it difficult to come to terms with, especially for children and young people who can find it confusing and overwhelming. The hidden effects of brain injury, such as fatigue and emotional changes, can also be hard for children to understand. Adjusting to a new routine can pose a challenge for the whole household and it is important children feel supported and reassured in order to cope.

It can be hugely demanding on the partner or spouse of an ABI survivor, most notably where there is a severe personality transformation. The cognitive and behavioural changes can leave their partner feeling like ‘they are married to a stranger,’ particularly when it effects their ability to show love, sympathy and emotion. Where responsibilities in the home may have been previously shared, they may find that, as their partner focuses on recovery, they are now running the household alone. The transition into a care-giving relationship can substantially alter the dynamic of the couple and it can be difficult to accept that the changes may be permanent.

It is common for friends and family members to feel a sense of loss for the individual and their pre-injury life.  Grieving is difficult when the person you once knew is a living reminder of that loss, so it is important that practical help and support is sought early on.  

Making a legal claim

These problems can be made worse if it is felt that the injury was avoidable and is the fault of someone else, such as in a road traffic accident or workplace accident (personal injury), or as a result of negligent medical treatment (clinical negligence). In these circumstances the individual, or their family member on their behalf, may be able to bring a legal claim for compensation. It is crucial to get legal advice from experienced solicitors who understand the situation, so that the full amount of damages can be recovered. This can be invaluable for helping families care for their loved one in the future.

Pursuing a claim is not just limited to financial compensation, practical help and support should also be provided to the survivor and their family if the claim is successful. This can be in the form of rehabilitation, counselling or therapy and in some circumstances third party insurance companies will provide support even when liability is in dispute.

A large part of any claim may be for expenses incurred by others in caring for the ABI survivor. This can include things such as loss of earnings, gratuitous care, medical expenses and equipment. It may even become clear that the current accommodation arrangements are unsuitable and a medical examiner may recommend making home adaptations or even moving property.  The expenses around caring for an ABI survivor can be sustainable.  It is important that the legal team not only investigate a claim for any past expenses,  but also a projected future expense claim, for what will be needed after the claim is settled.

Individuals and their family members should feel comfortable to ask questions about their claim and supported throughout the process. As specialist solicitors with a wealth of experience in handling brain injury cases, Kingsley Napley understands the impact of ABI on individuals and their families. As a firm we deal with cases sensitively and thoroughly, to get you and your loved one the best result possible. 

You can contact our clinical negligence and personal injury team at or by calling 020 7814 1200 and we will provide a free review of your potential claim. 

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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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