12 Ways You Can Support a Friend Recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury

You want to help, but you’re not sure how. I totally get that. I was my husband’s caregiver after he suffered from a concussion and went through a long recovery with post-concussion syndrome. So I know first-hand how important it can be to have your community support you and how confusing it can be for your community to know how exactly to do that.

Depending on the severity of the trauma, the first few months are often the most critical time to offer your support. That is both important and much appreciated. But if, as it did with my husband, the recovery period lasts a year or longer the support can start to wane. Which is understandable if you’re not sure what’s going on. So really the best thing to do is check-in with your friend (or their partner) to see what the situation is and how best to help. I know my husband and I both appreciated all the love and support we both got during his two-plus year recovery process.

If you’re not sure how best to help, here are a few suggestions, from someone who’s been there.  

1. Don’t ask how you can help. Make very specific offers or, better yet, just do it.

Often times your friend might not even know what they need. Or figuring out what you can do is exhausting. And potentially gives them a headache. Maybe they’re worried about being a burden. So either just do something or make a very specific offer of help. Instead of “What can I do?” say, “Can I bring over a hot meal?” That makes it easy for your friend to say, “Yes, thank you.”

2. Bring a meal.

On that note, bring over a healthy meal that’s ready to eat (omega-3’s and healthy fats found in fish are great for the brain but skip the sweets and processed sugar). Especially in the beginning your friend might be experiencing dizziness, confusion, exhaustion and blurred vision… just to name a few potential symptoms. Having a meal, or two, ready to go is one less thing to figure out. Even if your friend has a partner that’s taking care of them, I know from experience how much of a relief it can be to welcome a tray of homemade enchiladas. That’s basically all we ate for the next three days and it was amazing!

3. Drop off groceries.

Choosing from 20 different types of soup at the grocery store can be paralyzing even for a healthy person. Add in the noise, bright lights, plus all the people and going to the grocery store can be downright overwhelming. It took my husband months before he even considered going to the store with me. Tell your friend that you’re going to the store anyway and want to drop off some basics for them.

4. Take out the trash.

If you know them well enough, ask to do some chores. I know it’s not the most exciting way to help, but trust me those little things add up and a little help goes a long way. If they’re experiencing physical symptoms walking from the kitchen with a bag of trash and then wheeling the trash can out to the curb could be a monumental task. So find out what day their trash pick up is and offer to come over the day before to help.

5. Drive them to a doctor’s appointment.

If they don’t have a partner or someone close by that’s acting as their primary caretaker, getting to the doctor’s office can be a challenge. Depending on how bad their physical symptoms are, they might not be able to drive. And while Lyft can technically get them there, with the number of appointments they probably have, those fares start to add up quickly. Depending on where the office is, you can probably run errands while they’re in their appointment… so it’s a win for both of you!

6. Take them to a quiet park.

Sometimes after days of being home in a dark, quiet house a little field trip is a welcome change of pace. Have a couple suggestions for quiet, chill places you can take them. A park, with shady benches, is a great choice, as is a slow drive with an ocean view.

But what can you do it you’re not close enough to physically help out?

7. Send a text. And keep sending them.

Let them know you’re thinking of them with a quick text. When recovering from a concussion, people often can’t engage in their normal social activities. Which can lead to feeling cut off or isolated. When my husband was recovering, he wasn’t great at being the one to keep the conversation going, but he always appreciated it when people reached out. A quick text, photo, or voice text from you takes less than a minute but could make their entire day a little bit happier.  

8. Have flowers delivered.

Brighten up their day with some beautiful flowers. Depending on where they’re at in their recovery your friend might be stuck inside due to light sensitivity or potential for overstimulation. Bring the outside to them. Pick out flowers that aren’t super fragrant (strong scents can sometimes trigger a migraine) but bright and cheery — your friend will appreciate the splash of color and the reminder that you’re thinking of them.

9. Order a meal.

There are so many meal delivery services these days, you don’t even have to pick a restaurant that has delivery. Ask them what their favorite local restaurant is and if today would be a good day to have that delivered. Getting to eat one of their favorite dishes and not having to go out to get it will feel like a treat.

10. Send some snail mail.

This is a two-for-one way to support them! First, it’s a fun surprise when they get it… who doesn’t like getting real mail?! Second, they can hang it on the wall or put it next to them on the table and it’s a lasting reminder that someone out there is thinking of them and sending good healing vibes. If you really want to go for it, send a little care package with their favorite healthy snacks, a funny comic that made you laugh, essential oils or really anything that you think might make them smile.

11. Call. Keep calling.

Honestly, they might not answer every time you call. But the fact that you did call means something. Ask how they are, listen, and sympathize. If they don’t want to talk about themselves fill them in on what’s being going on in your life. It’ll make them feel “normal” for a minute. Don’t worry about the call taking too long, most likely they’ll need to keep it short so they don’t tire themselves out.

12. Learn a little bit about what your friend is going through by researching concussions or TBIs.

I don’t mean spend hours on end learning everything there is to know about their particular situation. I mean spend 5 minutes Googling possible symptoms and the recovery process. The Mayo Clinic is a good source, as is Concussion Legacy Foundation, and there’s always Wikipedia. Knowing just a little bit can help you ask kind, thoughtful questions when you visit or call. Plus, knowing that you took the time to Google it will make your friend feel loved and supported.

Featured photo by Alexandra Gorn. Additional photos by Cayla1, Andras VasKatherine Hanlon &  Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash.