How an education-based support group helps traumatic brain injury survivors thrive

Brain Health

by Donna Noorbakhsh, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS

Mar 6, 2019

Adjusting to life after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is daunting, challenging and life-changing. A TBI affects all areas of a person’s life, from your physical and mental health to your relationships and career. Adjusting after this life-altering event can seem overwhelming.

Through my work, I have helped many individuals living with brain injury return to independent living, work and school. However, about a year ago, I felt compelled to do more — how could I help people not simply adjust to life after a TBI, but thrive?

This led to the development of an education-based TBI support group. This group, which I call the Brain Health Group, exists to educate, support and create a healthy community for individuals living with TBI. By learning about factors that influence what we call “brain health,” the hope is that you will live a life in which you control your brain – not the other way around.

By learning about factors that influence what we call “brain health,” the hope is that you will live a life in which you control your brain – not the other way around.

As part of an ongoing research study at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation, we’re using this support group to see what truly works best for people adjusting to life after traumatic brain injury. To do this, we’ll measure how the support and education provided through the Brain Health Group impacts participants mental and physical wellness, quality of life, and progress towards individualized brain health goals.

What are the benefits of a support group for TBI survivors?

Support groups often answer questions that patients may feel uncomfortable bringing up with doctors and individuals who haven’t experienced the injury you have. Meeting with peers who can understand where you’re coming from opens up an opportunity to voice deeply personal concerns and questions.

In my experience running a support group, participants have asked questions relating to alcohol/drug addiction, sex, relationships, fear, anxiety and more. The majority of these people reported they did not ask their physicians these questions because they didn’t feel comfortable doing so.

A support group allows you to develop trust and break down these barriers. The goal is to create an environment for candid discussions without fear of being judged or misunderstood. Furthermore, this group allows survivors to share advice regarding their experiences and resources they have utilized, and offer support in ways other people can’t.

What is brain health?

The concept of brain health refers to steps you can take to improve your brain’s performance from the inside out. Making the decision to appreciate, protect and nourish your brain with knowledge, nutrition and self-love will lead to a healthier brain — and a healthy brain is a happy brain. 

Related: Learning to appreciate life after my traumatic car accident

Taking control of your recovery and brain health

The focus of this support group is to provide education regarding traumatic brain injuries and overall brain health through instructional sessions, group discussions and structured tasks geared toward improving your mental well-being and quality of life. We have also developed a “Brain Health App” that sends reminders to participants about health tips, fun facts, strategies and motivational quotes.

Our Brain Health Group motto is:

“Starting today I will acknowledge what’s gone, appreciate what still remains and look forward to what’s coming next.”

Topics discussed in our Brain Health Group provide education around many areas that people often find are affected after a traumatic brain injury, including:

  • Understanding traumatic brain injury
  • Setting achievable goals for brain injury recovery
  • Dealing with anxiety, depression and fatigue after TBI
  • How to improve your brain health
  • Cognitive changes after TBI
  • Returning to work after TBI
  • Role changes after TBI
  • Gratitude
  • What’s “normal” after TBI?
  • Recovery after TBI
  • Communication, relationships and dating after TBI

Throughout my life, I have met individuals as young as 17 and as old as 71 seeking ongoing support and education, even years after their injury. It is a joy and privilege to provide this support for people living with TBI across the lifespan.

Download our guide to living a healthy lifestyle after a TBI.

Recovery after a traumatic brain injury is a journey, but you should never feel alone in that journey. You may be living with a TBI, but this injury does not define you. With the right support and education, you can take control of your brain health and make choices that will improve your brain’s functioning today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life.

Find support today.

About the Author

Donna Noorbakhsh is a speech language pathologist and certified brain injury specialist on staff at the Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation – Dallas Day Neuro Clinic.

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