Communicating with Brain Injury Survivors: What To Say and Not to Say

communicate with brain injury patients

A brain injury can change a lot for someone, affecting how they move, feel, and think. One big area it can impact is communication. Many people who’ve had a brain injury find it tough to share their thoughts or understand others. Research in the Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience shows that about 75% of people recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) have trouble communicating. This might mean having a hard time finding the right words or struggling to follow conversations.

Even with these challenges, it’s important to remember that people with brain injuries are still themselves. They have the same personality and smarts as before. But now, they’re dealing with a world that’s a bit more complicated. Headway’s research reveals that many of these individuals often feel misunderstood due to their slowed speech or difficulty expressing thoughts, which can lead to social isolation. This can make them feel left out. It’s key to understand that being slow to communicate doesn’t mean they’re any less capable.

Talking with someone who has a brain injury might seem tricky. It’s not just about the words we use but also how we use them.

Communicating with Someone Who Has a Brain Injury: What Not to Say

When you’re talking to someone who’s had a brain injury, it’s really important to choose your words with care. Here’s a closer look at things you should avoid saying and why:

  • “You don’t look like you’re hurt.” – Even if someone doesn’t have visible injuries, it doesn’t mean they aren’t dealing with big challenges on the inside. Saying this can make their struggles feel ignored.
  • “I forget things all the time, too.” – Everyone forgets things, but for someone with a brain injury, forgetting isn’t just a normal mistake; it’s part of their condition. Comparing it to everyday forgetfulness can make light of their difficulties.
  • “Just try harder.” – Recovery from a brain injury isn’t about effort alone; it’s a complex healing process. Suggesting they’re not trying hard enough can be unfair and upsetting.
  • “You used to be able to do this easily.” – Pointing out things they could do before their injury might remind them of what they’ve lost, which can be disheartening.
  • “If you just concentrate, you’ll get better.” – While focus can help, overcoming the effects of a brain injury involves much more than just concentration. This oversimplifies their recovery and its challenges.
  • “You seem lazy.” – Symptoms like fatigue or being easily overwhelmed might look like laziness, but they’re actually direct results of the brain injury. It’s not about not wanting to do things; it’s about having the energy and capacity to do them.
  • “Don’t overreact.” – Emotional responses can change after a brain injury. Telling someone they’re overreacting invalidates their feelings and the real changes they’re experiencing.
  • “It could have been worse.” – While this is true, it doesn’t help the person feel any better about their current situation. It can also feel dismissive of the serious changes they’re going through now.
  • “Why do you need so much help?” – Recovery processes vary greatly, and needing help is not a sign of weakness. This question can make someone feel guilty for needing support.
  • “Shouldn’t you be better by now?” – Healing from a brain injury takes time and can be unpredictable. This question puts unnecessary pressure on someone who’s likely doing their best to recover.

Talking to someone with a brain injury requires sensitivity and understanding. Being mindful of your words can make a big difference in their day and how they feel about their progress and recovery.

Simple Ways to Talk to Someone with a Brain Injury

Talking to someone who has had a brain injury doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s mostly about being kind, patient, and making a few adjustments to how you communicate. Here are some straightforward tips on doing just that:

1. Be Patient and Wait

After asking them something or saying your bit, wait quietly for their answer. Don’t rush them or jump in to finish what they’re trying to say.

2. Use Easy Words and Short Sentences

Keep your language simple and your sentences short. This helps make sure they can follow along and join in the conversation without feeling overwhelmed.

3. Look Them in the Eye

When you talk, try to be at the same level and look them in the eyes. This shows you’re really there with them and interested in what they have to say.

4. Find a Quiet Spot

Choose a place to talk where it’s quiet and calm, without too much going on in the background. This makes it easier for them to concentrate and talk with you.

5. Add Gestures and Expressions

Sometimes, using your hands or facial expressions can help get your point across better than words alone. It can also make the chat more engaging for them.

6. Really Listen

Show you’re listening by nodding your head, making sounds that you agree with, or repeating some of what they say back to them. This helps make sure you both understand each other well.

7. Try Different Ways of Talking

If speaking is hard for them, suggest writing things down, using hand movements, or even using technology that helps them speak. And cheer on them in any way they try to express themselves.

8. Show You Understand Their Feelings

Say things like “It sounds like that’s really important to you” or “I see why you’d feel that way” to show you’re paying attention to their feelings.

9. Celebrate the Good Stuff

When they share something well or make a good point, tell them. A little bit of positive feedback can go a long way in building their confidence.

10. Keep Them in the Loop

Make sure to include them in group conversations by asking their thoughts and giving them time to respond. Feeling included is super important.

These tips are all about making communication smoother and more respectful for people with brain injuries. By being patient, keeping things simple, and actively engaging, you create a friendly space for them to share their thoughts and feelings.

Understanding and Kindness Go a Long Way

When we talk about helping people with brain injuries communicate, two things really stand out: being patient and being understanding. It’s not just about being nice; it’s about making a real difference in someone’s life.

Being patient means more than just waiting around. It’s about being there for them, giving them the space and time they need to express themselves without feeling rushed. And understanding—well, that’s about trying to see things from their perspective. It’s knowing that everyone has their own struggles and recognizing how hard they’re working to overcome theirs.

Every time you talk to someone with a brain injury, you have a chance to make their day a bit better. By showing patience and understanding, you’re not just helping them talk; you’re helping them heal and feel connected. These simple acts of kindness can create a world that’s more welcoming and supportive for everyone, especially those working through the challenges of a brain injury.


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