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One of the most common mistakes that brain injury survivors’ loved ones make after an injury is not giving the survivors enough time to respond or take an action. For instance, a survivor and his family may be at a restaurant for dinner. When the survivor is struggling to place his order, a family member may jump in to place the order for him. If given enough time, the survivor may have been perfectly able to place the order but the family member did not give him enough time to respond.
There are a few reasons why survivors’ loved ones tend to not give enough time to the survivor to respond or take an action. One reason is that silence is uncomfortable. For instance, if a survivor is needing extra time to respond, the silence may be so uncomfortable that the loved one will jump in and speak “for” the survivor. A second reason is that is uncomfortable to watch someone struggle. As an example, a survivor may be slowly, and with great effort, reach toward an item on a table. The loved one may be so uncomfortable watching the survivor’s struggle that they reach over to get the item for the survivor. A third reason is the feeling that the survivor and loved ones are in a rush or feel like they are causing someone else to slow down. For instance, a survivor in a wheelchair may be pedaling down a hospital hallway but family members, concerned that the wheelchair is blocking the nurses, decide to push the survivor’s wheelchair to more quickly reach their destination.
However, it is important to give the survivor more time. First, and most importantly, if the survivor is able to make a response or take an appropriate action when given extra time, they should be allowed the independence and respect to do so. By unnecessarily jumping in, loved ones are taking away the power and the dignity of the survivor to take care of their own needs. Second, although a survivor may need extra time and effort to complete a task, they are more likely to get faster and more efficient over time with practice. By doing the task for them, the loved one is taking away vital practice from the survivor who is trying to master a task. Third, the survivor may need extra time to safely complete an activity. After an injury, certain tasks may have concrete steps which take time or require more processing time to successfully finish without risk. For example, most uninjured individuals simply stand up when they are ready to leave a room. A survivor may have to go through multiple steps to safely transfer from sitting to standing. These steps require extra time so the survivor can safely transfer.
When wondering about the survivor’s need for extra time and if they should jump in, loved ones should ask themselves the following questions:
1. Is the task truly out of the survivor’s skill range or do I just need to be more patient to allow them to complete the task?
2. Are we actually in a rush or is a little extra time a reasonable request? For example, if a survivor needs an extra ten seconds to place an order at a restaurant, keep in mind that the waitstaff is getting paid to serve you. Ten extra seconds is not an unreasonable request.
3. What message am I giving to the survivor if I do not allow them to do for themselves when they are able to so?
4. Is the issue really about the survivor needing extra time or my personal discomfort in this situation?
5. By going faster, have I compromised my or the survivor’s safety?
In most cases, a little extra time will help a brain injury survivor be more successful and allow everyone to have a better experience!
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