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Couples call for help to manage relationships with brain injured partner

The vast majority of couples where one partner has suffered a brain injury have relationship difficulties.  While that may come as no surprise given the physical, mental and emotional changes caused by a brain injury, what is worrying is the seeming lack of help available to couples seeking support and guidance.
As Action for Brain Injury Week (May 12-18, 2014) raises awareness of living with a brain injury in the family, anecdotal research conducted by the Brain Injury Group shows a worrying trend of relationship breakdowns and little help to be found.
Sixty eight per cent of respondents said they had difficulties in their sexual relationship since one sustained a brain injury, but only 10% had been offered advice by a healthcare professional.  Some 40% reported that they had experienced a relationship breakdown following an injury, and a resounding 77% said there was a need for more information about the impact of a brain injury on sexual relationships. 
Dr Hannah Green, researcher at relationship research charity, OnePlusOne says: “It is not surprising that couples experience relationship difficulties as they face the emotional and physical implications linked to brain injury. The problems could arise from many factors ranging from emotional or physical limitations on the part of the brain injured partner to stress, tiredness and worry experienced by the non-injured, caring partner.”
The research conducted by the Brain Injury Group is borne out by independent research including O’Carroll et al., 1991; Peters et al., 1990; Willer et al., 1991 which showed the most common concerns for partners are changes in their partner’s personality, loss of emotional support and companionship and a loss or reduction in expression of affection. Further research shows an estimated 40% separation rate seven years after a brain injury is experienced by one partner (source: Oddy, Coughlan, Tyerman and Jenkins,1985) while Wood and Yurdakul (1997) found that 49% of their UK sample of 131 couples had divorced or separated during the five to eight year period following brain injury.
“A brain injury striking is one of the most traumatic changes an individual and couple can face,” says Fred Tyler from law firm Balfour+Manson LLP, a member of the Brain Injury Group based in Edinburgh.   “For some couples the injury is so severe, their relationship is sadly irretrievable.  But for many the changes that occur to one partner physically, mentally or emotionally can be managed with the right care and advice: this is what we aim to provide our clients through our range of services but clearly there is a need for more accessible help to those affected.”
According to Eliot Lamb, an occupational therapist and case manager with Independent Living Solutions*, there are many factors that affect the outcome of relationships hit by a brain injury:  “Clearly the strength of the relationship before the injury, how long a couple has been together and the social and family support available to both partners all play a part,” says Eliot, who has worked with brain injured clients for eight years.  “However, the impact on personal relationships and the influence of a stable and fulfilling relationship on recovery is often overlooked by the professionals caring for brain injured people.  Many individuals (clients, their families, professionals) just aren’t comfortable talking about sexual relationships, so more widespread guidance both for those suffering an injury and the professionals supporting them would be very welcome”.  
If you have been affected by brain injury visit braininjurygroup.co.uk for help and signposting to services.  To complete the survey and share your experience visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/braininjurygroup.
Find out more at www.braininjurygroup.co.ukand OnePlusOne.org.uk and Independent Living Solutions.
*Independent Living Solutions provides a comprehensive case management and rehabilitation service.