Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Miscellaneous - "Getting Better" after TBI


Dear Kathy M.,

My mother fell in December and hit her head on the floor. She had a Subdural Hematoma. She is 68 years old and was well until this. I love my mother more than life. I am her only daughter. I am married and have 3 of my own. My mother is now staying with me and I am taking care of her and them. Could you tell me if my mom will get better please? Thank You

Kathy's Response:

My first inclination is to say "Yes, she will get better," but I need to be careful because I don't know her entire medical history and I'm also not a doctor or other medical professional. Let's put it this way, many (most) people I have met who have had a brain injury "get better" in a variety of ways. Some recovery is a result of natural healing; some is the result of stimulation and therapy; and some is a result of teaching the person compensatory skills and strategies.

My direct experience is with the latter (compensation skills training), and I have witnesses many situations where compensation training gives a person with brain injury many of the skills they need to gain autonomy and increased independence -- something that is often not possible to regain when one's memory and other "organic" cognitive functions have been affected. In effect, the person is taught to replicate lost cognitive functions on paper.

What does "getting better" mean?

"Getting better" means different things to different people. Many of us think of it primarily as "healing" -- in much the same way a broken bone would heal. The doctor sets it (applies a medical procedure); we wait for it to heal; and then the broken limb functions again.

Or, we might think of "recovery" the same way we would think of strengthening a weakend back muscle. The doctor diagnoses the problem, sends the patient to physical therapy and the person gets better as the result of "therapy."

The problem is that recovery from brain injury does not really fit into either of these models. In my view, "recovery" from a brain injury may be more analogous to the kinds of steps a person might take who has lost much of their hearing as the result of an illness or injury. After all the natural hearing has taken place, and after any necessary therapy has been completed, the next step is to teach the person how to compensate for the organic function they have lost -- so they can function in day-to-day life at their maximum potential. They might be given amplification equipment, or a TTY machine (so they can use a phone), or they might be taught how to lip read. In the disability community, this is known as providing assistive technology and teaching compensatory strategies and skills. In many cases, the degree of "functional recovery" the person achieves is a direct result of the quality of assistive technology they use, the quality of training they receive, and their ability and willingness to use it.

In my personal experience with recovery from brain injury (personal experience and as a teacher of compensatory skills), the latter gives those of us with this injury "the most bang for their buck." By this I mean that we often make the most headway in terms of functional recovery by focusing on learning compensatory skills and using compensatory tools.

Networking with other family members

Please look into networking with other family members who have "walked the walk." By contacting the national association (Brain Injury Association, Inc.), you will learn about state association support and local support groups in your area. They can be reached on the internet at:

You can also network internationally with families and others with brain injury by joining e-mail support and discussion group lists. I facilitate several and there are others too. This site has a list of them at:

Hope this helps,
Kathy M.

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