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Family & Friends: 11 DO’s and DON’ts about how to help someone with a concussion.

Updated: Feb 9

What people thought I needed VS. what I really needed

Listen to this blog:

When you break your leg, it’s clear what to do next.

A doctor will tell you the steps and how long it takes to heal. You know exactly what to tell your friends and family, and everyone will understand you can’t walk for the next few weeks and they take that into account as there is always a clear end in sight. No one will doubt that or will ignore the fact that you can’t walk.

But how to help someone with a concussion is a different story

It’s an invisible injury, people can’t see it, and they can’t imagine how it will feel. People might ask you questions like how long it takes to recover or what you feel. But you don’t have the answers. The people around you don’t know what to do, they want to help, but they don’t understand what you’re going through. There is no fixed timeline.

Or even worse, they ignore that you’re hurting (physically and emotionally) as they don’t see it. This can make you feel so alone. In this post, you read more about the do’s and don’ts of how to take care of someone with a concussion.

How to help someone with a concussion

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Table of contents:

How to understand / what to do if someone has a concussion

The first step is learning what your friend/family member is going through after they sustained a concussion. But it’s really hard for them to put symptoms into words as sometimes there are no words for what we are feeling.

As we don’t know exactly what someone with a concussion feels like, it is really important to know what they need, to be there for them and help them where you can.

The needs and how to help someone with a concussion / How to take care of them?

When I look back at my recovery, there were many people who helped. But not all of them did the exact things that I needed during that moment.

Here are 11 examples of what people thought I needed vs. what I really needed.

  • People who were telling me to rest as much as possible. This isn’t something we need. Research shows it’s better to stay active in your recovery: physical activity & cognitive exercises work wonders.

  • Asking me questions like: Do you think you will ever get rid of your symptoms? When do you think you’ll be better? This isn’t helping at all. I was already doubting it but hearing other people saying it makes it real.

  • People who didn’t text me or asked me how I was doing as they didn’t know what to say. I get it, what do you say to people who are still not feeling any better? It’s hard. But even just one text message that they’re thinking about me, that if I need something they will be there for me, was enough. Let the concussed person know they are not alone in this and can count on you.

  • Not asking what I need (basic help), assuming they know what I need. Most people just thought I needed rest, not seeing anyone. They filled in what I needed without asking me. My advice: ask what a person needs, and if this person says no, I don’t need anything, keep asking them because often, they don’t want to bother other people, but sometimes, they really need help. Offer your help where you can: drive them to appointments, make a meal for them, do groceries, help them clean the house.

  • People who think they know how to heal this concussion, how they would do things differently when they were in my shoes. I know they try to help us, but believe me, when you’ve been dealing with a concussion for years, we’ve almost tried everything to get better. Some people just sum up all treatments to let us know there is help out there, not realizing it’s hard for us to know that it feels like nothing is helping. We’ve already tried so many things!

  • People who put even more tasks to my to-do list. When you sustain a concussion, it already feels like one task on your list is too much. When people add (for them simple tasks, for us it’s huge) something else to it, this can be overwhelming. For example, someone who aks you to get that one thing from the supermarket while it’s not on your planning for that day. Or someone who ask you to make a call. It’s mostly about unexpected things that we didn’t calculate in our planning. We have limited energy. To understand this better, just read about The Spoon Theory - How I manage my daily energy.

  • People who don’t respect your boundaries and your need for breaks. When you don’t have a concussion yourself, it’s hard to understand that we really NEED boundaries and breaks to function. When we ignore or skip them, we can get a breakdown (read: not being able to function anymore). Normal activities become overwhelming, so if you want to help your loved one, help them make a plan, plan their breaks, remind them to take that break.

  • People who don’t even try to learn about your triggers or ignore them. When you sustain a concussion, many triggers make you feel overwhelmed. For example: bright lights, loud noises, busy places, conversations (with more than one person), background noise. Learn what causes your loved one distress, learn their limits and help them to avoid them. So, turn down the television, turn off the music in a car and ask them what they need from your side.

  • Not asking them how to make it easier at home. Home should be a place where they can recharge and relax. Also, some things might help to make things easier: if they have memory issues you can add post-its on the fridge or doors to remind them about something, keep things organized so their mind is more organized as well, dim the lights/cover some lights when they have light sensitivity, keep a daily routine. And again, ask them what would be helpful.

  • Holding someone back from trying new things. I get it, we are concerned and want to protect your love one. But sometimes, we need your help to get us out of that comfort zone. It doesn’t mean you push us too hard, but a little push can help to give us more confidence about what we can handle or to get out of the house. This can be a short walk as this can do wonders instead of laying on the couch all day or invite one more person to see how he/she is managing a conversation with more than one person.

  • When you arrange a surprise (for example going out for lunch) and forgetting to ask if they are okay with it. Sometimes, I say yes to things, which I would have said no to if I were alone. I just didn’t want to disappoint this person, especially when they arranged a surprise. So it can be helpful to ask them one day before if they are okay doing that so they can adjust their planning for the next day as we have limited energy ;).

So far these are the most important things I can think of right now. I really hope it helps caregivers to understand their loved ones a bit better as it can be really hard knowing what to do if someone has a concussion.

Remember, it’s okay to be frustrated and uncertain. You’re both getting through difficult emotions. But the way things are right now is not how it will be forever.

Two things that will help someone with a concussion to move forward

The brain can regain its function through neuroplasticity. That’s why I recommend everyone with a concussion (who sustained it longer than three weeks ago) to start interval training combined with cognitive exercises.

Why are cognitive exercises so helpful for people with a concussion?

Cognitive exercises help you to stretch your brain muscles. After sustaining a concussion, some connections may have fallen out of use or are not working properly anymore.

Some "roads" in your brain are damaged, the highway is gone, and it's draining energy to reach a destination. To make this easier for you, I created a 5-week cognitive course, where I guide you through the 15 most effective cognitive exercises for people with a concussion.

These specific cognitive exercises will help you restore the "roads"; your brain just needs the right push to recover, and this is known as neuroplasticity.

What to do if someone has a concussion
When you combine this with interval training, they work like magic.

Interval training are short bursts of intense exercise alternated with recovery periods. In our case, the breathing exercise. In my 2-week interval course, you will learn how to do them in the most beneficial way for someone with a concussion.

How to take care of someone with a concussion

The road isn’t always easy, but there is hope, and more progress will come!

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how to help someone with a concussion

Have you tried many things to reduce your symptoms?

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