Tips for Talking with a Brain Injury Survivor — Part II


2014-0212 Marie RowlandAs with the previous post in this series, content under the heading titled “Article” was written by Marie Rowland, PhD, EmpowermentAlly and published on Brainline. I removed the original links and divided the article into two posts to increase readability of the article. I know physicians, family members, and friends who could benefit by reading article. Perhaps, you do too.


5. Do you have any idea how much I do for you?

Your loved one probably knows how much you do, and feels incredibly guilty about it. It’s also possible that your loved one has no clue, and may never understand. This can be due to problems with awareness, memory, or apathy — all of which can be a direct result of a brain injury. You do need to unload your burden on someone, just let that someone be a good friend or a counselor.

6. Your problem is all the medications you take.

Prescription drugs can cause all kinds of side effects such as sluggishness, insomnia, memory problems, mania, sexual dysfunction, or weight gain — just to name a few. Someone with a brain injury is especially sensitive to these effects. But, if you blame everything on the effects of drugs, two things could happen. One, you might be encouraging your loved one to stop taking an important drug prematurely. Two, you might be overlooking a genuine sign of brain injury.

It’s a good idea to regularly review prescription drugs with a doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask about alternatives that might reduce side effects. At some point in recovery, it might very well be the right time to taper off a drug. But, you won’t know this without regular follow-up.

7. Let me do that for you.

Independence and control are two of the most important things lost after a brain injury. Yes, it may be easier to do things for your loved one. Yes, it may be less frustrating. But, encouraging your loved one to do things on their own will help promote self-esteem, confidence, and quality of living. It can also help the brain recover faster.

Do make sure that the task isn’t one that might put your loved one at genuine risk — such as driving too soon or managing medication when there are significant memory problems.

8. Try to think positively.

That’s easier said than done for many people, and even harder for someone with a brain injury. Repetitive negative thinking is called rumination, and it can be common after a brain injury. Rumination is usually related to depression or anxiety, and so treating those problems may help break the negative thinking cycle.

Furthermore, if you tell someone to stop thinking about a certain negative thought, that thought will just be pushed further towards the front of the mind (literally, to the prefrontal cortex). Instead, find a task that is especially enjoyable for your loved one. It will help to distract from negative thinking, and release chemicals that promote more positive thoughts.

9. You’re lucky to be alive.

This sounds like positive thinking, looking on the bright side of things. But be careful. A person with a brain injury is six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than someone without a brain injury. Some may not feel very lucky to be alive. Instead of calling it “luck,” talk about how strong, persistent, or heroic the person is for getting through their ordeal. Tell them that they’re awesome.

Click here if you wish to read the original article written by Marie Rowland, PhD.

Call to Action

If you have any tips regarding things someone should not say to a person with brain injury, please share your tips in the comment box below this post. You may choose to read the first post in this series before leaving any tips pertaining to this post.


Thanks to Marie Rowland, PhD, EmpowermentAlly for writing the article used in this post; Brainline for publishing the article on their website; and all the other people who, directly and indirectly, made it possible for me to use the picture and text in this post.



  1. these articles, part one and two, would have been very helpful for those interacting with me at an earlier stage in my recovery. something like this should be included in the release from the hospital. in many hospitals, something like it may be, but UCI, where i stayed was very vague and not at all helpful upon turning me out into the world. leaving me and my family very ill equipped for dealing with everything that i was facing. outside of wheelchair transfers-that is… great share, scott! thank you! the only thing i would add is along the lines of, “you’re lucky to be alive” the phrase that i hate more than anything, “everything happens for a reason”

    1. Mark,

      I agree with you, but there are two parts to the problem. First, nobody wants to put anything in writing that might possibly be proven wrong at any point in time. Second, people tend not to read or understand the information they are given — especially after a brain injury. Thus, it is up to survivors like us to share what we know with the people who will listen.

      “Your lucky to be alive” seems rather silly, but you have to admit being alive is, in many cases, better than being dead. I’m not sure luck has anything to do with survival or recovery. Both require a positive attitude, a viable plan, a lot of work, and belief things will get better. ~ Scott

  2. What do you suggest we bury our heads in the sand and not face reality?
    Positive thinking is what will get you out of the dumpts.
    Faith in God is all about this!

    1. Sandra,

      I’m not sure what you are talking about, but I released your comment anyway. It seems to me you neglected to read the title of the post. The post is very clearly about things NOT to say to a survivor. Many of us, in and out of the brain injury community, have received very negative comments from physicians, family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. The article, which I feel is on point, states that negative comments have a negative effect of survivors. The article does not say, nor do I imply, that survivors avoid positive thinking. If you read any of my hundreds of posts, you will see that I am a huge advocate of positive thinking. In fact, I think having a positive attitude is the single most important part of recovery.

  3. Scott;
    it’s great to hear this all again; but, is there not an ‘icon’ you can ad (or am I missing the BLOGSPOT-index … I’ve only worked with WORDPRSS once!?) that readers can click-on to read previous articles … searcing for ‘blurbs’ on family support/peer support and Community members re-entering/maintining present relationships?

    1. Barbara,

      I am not certain what you are asking or how I may help.

      1. If you want to search for a topic, there are three search boxes. The one at the top right side of the screen is the best one
      for what I think you are trying to find.
      2. I would be happy to search for you, or even write a post for you, if I understood exactly what you want.
      3. The blog was created using WordPress not BlogSpot, but reading previous posts is straight forward:
      a. Navigate to the blog ( with any internet browser (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, etc.).
      b. You will see a list of the most recent posts.
      c. To see posts a little older, click the “< -- Older Posts” link at the bottom left. d. To read any post, simply click the large title or the “Continue reading -->” link in the bottom right corner of each summary.

      If you are looking for posts that address topics of interest to caregivers, family members, community support, or re-entering the community, many post address these issues although I may not explicitly state the post is about someone other than the survivor. If you tell me more about your specific situation and your specific goals, I may be able to provide more information.

      Please let me know how I may help.


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