My adult child has a brain injury - Fact Sheet
A brain injury can be a devastating
experience for the parents of an injured adult child.
Parents say they have had no time to prepare for the many changes
that occur to their lives as a result of a son or daughter's brain
injury. Often, now that their family have grown, parents are at the
stage of planning for their own future. It seems that life and
those plans disappear in an instant.
Changes in personality and behaviour of their child can be very
disconcerting for parents. Displays of childish behaviour can be
embarrassing, while mood swings and having to provide guidance and
feedback can be challenging.
Like all family members, parents can experience many emotions
coming to terms with the fact that their adult child has a
traumatic brain injury or similar brain disorder.
These could include:
- Shock and denial at the immediacy and severity of the injury
and the consequences of brain injury / changes to your child
- Anger and frustration at the circumstances of the injury, of
how it has impacted on your life and how your child's life will
- Loss - changes to plans, financial losses, grieving the loss of
the future parents had anticipated for themselves and their
- Resentment and guilt - resenting the changes, feeling that you
could have "done something better", feeling guilty for feelings of
anger, resentment and frustration
- Loneliness and isolation - many parents report the gradual
withdrawal of their friends as their lives have now taken different
directions with different priorities
- Mourning/chronic sorrow - Grieving processes rarely end, as a
loved one remains in your life, but often as an altered
It is common to mourn the personality and characteristics that
have been lost while learning to relate to a different person.
Mourning is never completed but can begin again with reminders of
what has been lost. Some parents say that they have lost interest
in things they used to enjoy.
Relationship & role
Depending on the severity and nature of the brain injury
relationships can change in several ways.
A brain injury places strain on many relationships and marriages.
Concern about a child's relationships, practical issues of how to
help, and uncertainty about how the situation will work out is
Tensions between parents themselves can occur. Different attitudes
and expectations and different ways of coping can aggravate
It is possible that the injured adult may move back home and
parents may become carers.
If this involves basic personal care and cueing with daily living
tasks, it may be like parenting a child all over again. The
relationship is no longer an adult relationship and this can be
especially difficult if there are challenging behaviours as
Having carers or lifestyle support workers coming into the home on
a regular basis can place a strain on relationships as parents feel
that their lives are less private.
Help with grandchildren may be needed when one parent has a brain
injury and the other is committed to a significant caring role or
Parents often worry about how the brain injury has affected their
relationships with their other children. Some parents find
themselves being more over-protective of their other children.
Others worry that they are neglecting their other children and feel
their resources (emotional, financial, time) are stretched in this
Relationships with friends and extended family may also change
especially if parents feel that others do not understand the brain
Many parents find that roles in the family change as a result of
their adult child sustaining a brain injury:
- Parents may have to take on a carer role with their adult
- Previously valued roles may change e.g. giving up work to be a
carer, loss of retirement plans
- Grandparents may become more involved in their child's own
family as a result of the brain injury and may even take on the
parenting role with their grandchildren
- Parents may need to take on a more supportive role in relation
to the spouse of their son/ daughter
- Parents may need to help educate and support other family
members and friends about brain injury.
Practical consequences of a brain
There may be many practical consequences of the brain injury. At
times a brain injury will result in challenging behaviour which
requires understanding of the reasons for the behaviour and
strategies to manage them. Professional assistance may be required
in some cases.
Parents may need to assist financially, particularly if the
injured person was the primary income earner. This may result in an
inability to meet previous financial commitments such as mortgage
repayments, car payments, childcare or school fees. Parents may
find that they need to be involved in provision of:
- 'Hands on' assistance e.g. feeding, bathing
- Transport to appointments and activities
- Assistance with managing finances and making decisions
- Assistance with maintaining pre-existing relationships
- Social support and social outings.
Remember to ask other family members or services to provide
assistance. Encourage the person with a brain injury to gain as
much independence as possible as it is important to allow them to
learn new skills and to be as independent as possible. Be guided by
the professionals working with them.
Remember that a traumatic brain injury does not change everything
about a person and some personality traits, behaviour traits and
interests will remain unchanged.
Useful Strategies for
- Become involved in the hospitalisation and rehabilitation
- Learn as much as possible about the brain injury to assist
developing realistic expectations
- Realistically consider the strengths of individual family
- Identify areas where assistance would be beneficial and asking
- Talk about concerns with other family members/friends
- Take time to deal with the effects of the injury
- Keep daily routines as normal as possible
- Be open to involvement in support groups and counselling
- Spend quality time with other family members, and develop a
network of friends and activities
- Use supports such as regular respite when needed to rest,
rejuvenate, and care for yourself.
References and further information
This is fact sheet is reproduced with the permission
of ABIOS (Acquired Brain Injury Outreach Service).
Visit www.health.qld.gov.au/abios/ to see their full
range of fact sheets. ABIOS is a specialist community
based rehabilitation service to enhance the service system
for people with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) and their