Life after a brain injury
Neurology In the blink of an eye a person can go from living a full and independent life to living with an acquired brain injury.
Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) occurs in traumatic, often tragic circumstances, which leave people with life changing injuries and long-term effects.
With appropriate support many can go on to live independent, full lives but unfortunately, access to appropriate support and rehabilitation is by no means guaranteed. More than 13,000 people acquire a brain injury in Ireland every year, which has an enormous impact on their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
In Ireland, services and supports for people with brain injury are patchy at best. Initially, most people will spend time in hospital but it is often when they leave acute care that the full extent of their new challenges becomes apparent. Some people are lucky. They live in areas where specialist support – mostly delivered by the voluntary sector – is available and is effectively signposted towards them. But it is often all about luck. For many, the pathway is by no means clear and many people can get lost in the system, losing valuable rehabilitation time.
Access to a range of rehabilitation services, where and when a person needs them, is crucial. Sadly, progress towards this has been slow. Rehab supports the Neurological Alliance of Ireland’s We Need Our Heads Examined campaign, which is calling for the substantial improvement of community neuro-rehabilitation services throughout Ireland.
Getting your life back
We have seen first-hand, through our own dedicated brain injury services, just how much such targeted services can greatly enhance people’s lives and help those who have lost everything. With the right support, they can get back to living their lives as before. The services required are those that aim to deliver an holistic pathway of rehabilitation and support for people as early as possible in their diagnosis.
Services focus on enabling people to rebuild their lives in their communities by supporting them to regain their independence, access education, training and employment, and to re-engage with family and relationships.
Understanding the impact
But the objective must be to reach people early in their recovery to minimise the effects of their brain injury and maximise their future independence. Information is king.
For most people, understanding the impact of a brain injury on their cognitive or social ability is half the battle; sadly many people don’t receive the service they need. The full extent of the emotional, psychological and intellectual toll of a brain injury may take time to emerge and people often struggle to come to terms with a much changed reality.
Charities work hard to bridge the gap. Organisations like Rehab, Headway and ABI Ireland are doing their best but, unfortunately, people often get to the support that does exist by accident or because they have a family member who can support them to do so. In a perfect world, they should be supported to make the transition from acute to community-based support through a consistently delivered case management service. This would mean a dedicated person would guide the individual and their family towards greater independence throughout their lives and as their needs change.
The trouble is that, without these kind of dedicated, specialist supports, people are losing time and opportunity. They are being placed in inappropriate settings - there are many examples of young people with brain injuries being placed in nursing homes. Investment in local, targeted rehabilitation services to help people with acquired brain injury rebuild their lives is now overdue. With appropriate support many could go back to their lives, working, learning and living among their families. This must be Ireland’s priority.
Rehab is a charity that champions the value of diversity and inclusion for people with a disability or disadvantage in their communities. Our mission is to help the people we serve to be more independent and to contribute to, and be more included in their communities; empowering them with the skills and confidence to be active in the workforce, and supporting them to be in charge of their health and wellness. Over 17,000 people use Rehab's services - children and adults with disability, people on the autism spectrum, people with mental health difficulties and people who are disadvantaged in some way in the labour market. Our Quest, brain injury services in Galway helps individuals who have acquired brain injury to achieve greater independence and integration in their community.
For more information visit www.rehab.ie