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When a brain injury changes a loved one forever

Your spouse suffers a head injury in a fall at work. You get the call after they have already arrived at the hospital. Doctors keep them in a medically-induced coma for a few days to let some swelling on the brain go down, and then they wake back up again.

Over time, the physical side of the injury heals. Cuts and bruises fade. They regain all of the physical skills and abilities they had before the fall. You feel grateful that things seem normal again.

However, you can't help but feel like your spouse just isn't the same. Even after the physical healing, they act differently. Their personality makes them feel like someone completely different than the person you fell in love with. They get angry easily, they tend to act sullen and reserved, they sometimes go entire days without talking to you and they don't seem to enjoy life the way they did before.

What happened?

The unfortunate reality is that brain injuries often lead to mental and emotional changes. Someone's personality can change forever. Even if they physically recover, they may never again become the person they were before the accident. That person is gone.

For example, one person said that their sister suffered a head injury in a car accident. The woman's personality and temperament shifted notably. She did not seem to enjoy her life, she always yelled at her children and she would have times during which she didn't show any emotion at all. She wasn't the same woman she'd been before the crash.

For her family, the challenge was learning how to adapt and live with her. These changes lasted for years, so they knew she was not just going to wake up one day feeling like her old self.

Why it happens is a bit less clear, in part because brain injuries are different for everyone. What part of the brain sustained the injury? How severe was it? How soon did they get medical treatment? What type of rehab did they use after the injury?

Experts do think that there are two main reasons for these personality changes, though. They are:

  • Emotional reactions
  • More specific alterations regarding emotions and how the brain modulates, understands, expresses and experiences them

In short, the brain may actually change the way it handles emotions on a fundamental level, leading to the changes that you see, or the emotions themselves could trigger something like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in your spouse. Either way, they may change for life.

What now?

Living like this is hard. You have to know what legal options you and your spouse have. A brain injury can impact personal relationships, the ability to work, career goals and much more.

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