Tired of being tired? Fatigue following Traumatic Brain Injury
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can affect an individual in a number of different ways. The individual may suffer from physical symptoms such as mobility difficulties, speech problems or headaches. They may also suffer from cognitive difficulties such as memory and concentration difficulties or behavioural changes.
One of the most common symptoms following a brain injury is fatigue. Fatigue is a feeling of exhaustion or extreme tiredness. Fatigue does not necessarily depend upon the severity of the brain injury suffered. It can affect an individual who has suffered a mild brain injury just as much as it can affect someone who has suffered a severe brain injury.
As a personal injury solicitor representing survivors of brain injury, I often help individuals who are struggling to cope with their fatigue. A priority of the personal injury claim will be to take steps to assist the individual in managing their fatigue as part of their rehabilitation.
In this blog, I intend to consider the cause of fatigue, how it can impact upon other areas of an individual’s life and how it can be managed.
Causes of fatigue
The cause of fatigue following a brain injury is not really known, although a number of studies have been carried out to investigate its cause.
It has been suggested that fatigue in someone who has suffered a TBI is as a result of the extra effort and concentration required to carry out general day to day activities. Where the brain has been damaged, the brain may need to work harder to carry out activities that many of us take for granted, such as walking, talking or organising our day.
Fatigue may also be caused by a number of other factors. Individuals who have suffered a TBI often suffer from difficulties sleeping, which may exacerbate their fatigue. Other conditions such as depression or stress may also aggravate it.
Type of fatigue
There are different types of fatigue that a survivor of brain injury may experience.
- They may experience physical fatigue, which is when a person’s muscles and body are tired. This type of fatigue is usually worse in the evening or if the individual has slept badly the night before. This may mean that the individuals balance may be worse in the evenings and will need to be managed.
- An individual may experience psychological fatigue. This is linked to an individual’s ability to cope with life following their injury, and may be associated with depression, anxiety or other psychological conditions. This type of fatigue will likely get worse with stress.
- Mental fatigue in another type of fatigue which an individual may experience. This is caused by the extra effort which is required to think or carry out relatively simple activities. Many individuals who have suffered a brain injury will have to concentrate much more than they did before which can make them mentally tired. They may find that this can affect their speech, if this has been affected following the injury.
How fatigue can impact upon an individual’s life
Fatigue for someone who has suffered a brain injury can have a much greater impact on their life, than simply making them feel tired.
An individual who has suffered a brain injury may have recovered well following their accident. When they are well rested, they may not experience any physical difficulties at all. This may be as they are able to concentrate sufficiently to manage any residual difficulties they may have, such as poor balance or muscle weakness. When they are fatigued, they won’t be able to manage such difficulties as well and may then find it more difficult to mobilise.
Similarly, when they are not suffering from fatigue, an individual may be able to manage the requirements of their daily life well, such as organising their day, carrying out work and managing their finances etc. However, when an individual is fatigued, they may find it difficult to carry out such activities and to make decisions.
Where someone has suffered a TBI as a result of an accident that has been caused by someone else’s negligence, fatigue can have other significant implications.
When bringing a claim for personal injury, the injured person is required to mitigate their loss. This means that they are obliged to do all that they can to try and get better, where possible. When someone is suffering from fatigue, they may find it difficult to engage in their rehabilitation as fully as possible and so there is a risk that the other side may argue that they have failed to mitigate their loss. That is that the consequences of their injury are more severe than they would have been had they have engaged fully in their rehabilitation.
My role as a personal injury solicitor is to highlight the reason for any failure to engage in rehabilitation, where it is caused by fatigue, so that this is not held against the individual by the Court. The other way of dealing with this is to take steps to manage a person’s fatigue (see below), so that it has less of an impact on their ability to engage in rehabilitation.
Ways of managing fatigue
There are a number of steps which can be taken in order to manage fatigue and the affects following brain injury.
First, it is important to monitor an individual to ascertain their base level of fatigue. This will identify what types of fatigue they are suffering from and how it affects them as well as what improves their fatigue and what makes it worse. For example, if their biggest difficulty is physical fatigue which is caused by poor sleep or headaches, then the priority will be to target these difficulties which will then reduce the fatigue. Sleeping or pain medication may help. Alternatively, carrying out exercise during the day or meditation activities may make it easier for the person to sleep at night thereby reducing their fatigue during the day.
Other ways of managing fatigue, may include:
- taking regular rest breaks throughout the day
- balancing high demand tasks with low energy activities, to allow the person to cope with the day’s activities
- learn to identify early warning signs of fatigue so allow the person to rest accordingly
- engage in meditation or breathing techniques
Tired of being tired?
Fatigue is one of the most difficult symptoms to deal with following a TBI. This is because, as well as having to deal with the fatigue itself, it can also cause the individual to suffer other difficulties such as physical or cognitive impairments, as they are less able to deal with any residual difficulties due to the fatigue they are suffering.
In a personal injury claim, we often employ case managers who can manage an individual’s rehabilitation. It is important that they are made aware of any difficulties surrounding fatigue so that they are able to take steps to manage it as soon as possible. Any attempt to manage fatigue should be made in conjunction with any other treating practitioners, as they must be made aware of any techniques or strategies put in place to ensure that they can make the most of their treatment sessions. Only by working as a team can fatigue be managed to ensure the individual can make the most of their rehabilitation.