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Brain Injury and the Effects of Fatigue

21 May 2019

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Headway’s annual Action for brain injury campaign launched this week, with this year’s theme focusing on the effects of brain injury induced fatigue. Brain Drain: Wake up to Fatigue runs from 20-26 May 2019.

Headway reports that fatigue, also known as excessive tiredness, is one of the most common after effects of brain injury. Those whose lives have been impaired by fatigue feel like it has significantly impacted their day to day lives with:

• 87% of survey respondents stating that fatigue has a negative impact on their life
• 75% of brain injury victims declaring that they feel that their family, friends and work colleagues do not understand their brain injury- related fatigue.
• 69% of those surveyed reporting that they have been unfairly judged or treated as a result of the ignorance of people failing to understand their brain injury – related fatigue.
• 68% of respondents stating that their romantic relationships have suffered as a result of fatigue.

Why is fatigue a consequence of brain injury?

The brain controls every action the body takes, therefore when it sustains an injury it can lead to physical and cognitive problems. The brain usually recharges with sleep and rest, however after a brain injury, the brain requires ‘recharging’ more frequently in order to function properly.

Pathological fatigue is that which is often experienced by people with a brain injury. Unlike ‘normal’ instances of fatigue, pathological fatigue can be ever present. This can leave brain injury sufferers feeling socially isolated as they can no longer complete their daily activities as they once could.

What are the symptoms of fatigue?

Brain injury induced fatigue is not only limited to feeling more sleepy than usual, the symptoms can also include:

• Loss of appetite
• Lack of motivation and interest
• Issues with short term memory
• Irritability and anxiety
• Shortness of breath
• Slow movement and speech
• Withdrawal from social situations and unwillingness to participate in conversations

How to best manage brain injury induced fatigue

Fatigue can leave brain injury survivors feeling depressed and withdrawn. Unlike normal instances of fatigue which can be improved through rest, brain injury induced fatigue can be present in those effected most of the time, considerably impacting their quality of life. In order to best manage fatigue it is important to:

Establish a regular sleeping pattern:
Maintaining a regular sleeping pattern will help to prepare the body for going to sleep by winding down at night, and will help to make you feel more alert when you wake up. There are a number of steps you can take to establish a healthy sleeping pattern including:

• Avoiding napping after 4pm.
• Avoid eating a heavy meal late at night.
• Avoid exercise within 3 hours before going to sleep.
• Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine late into the evening.
• Establish sleep rituals to help you relax before bed, such as having a bath or listening to calming music.
• Avoid using your phone or watching TV in bed.
• Get exposure to the outdoors and sunlight during the day.

Prioritise your time
Establish what tasks are important for you to complete and focus on working on them in the hours of the day in which you are more alert. Give yourself regular rest breaks in between tasks and know your limitations and don’t take on too much, as this can lead to further stress.

Exercise releases endorphins which have a positive impact on mood and energy levels. Doing regular exercise can also help you to fall into a deeper sleep at night.

Eat and drink well
It is important to keep well hydrated throughout the day in order to help the brain and body to function effectively. It is recommended to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid per day – preferably water but low fat milk and sugar free drinks also count.
Eating slow releasing carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, will help to release sugar more steadily throughout the day in order maintain energy levels.

Create a calming environment
A messy and unorganised working and living space can lead to distraction and take up more of your energy than necessary. Ways to minimise distraction and to create a calming environment include:

• Organise your work space so that you know where everything is and get rid of items that are no longer needed.
• Turn off music or the TV when concentrating on a task.
• Use good lighting to prevent eye strain.

Use cognitive (thinking) strategies
People who have suffered a brain injury often describe how it takes more mental effort to complete tasks, than it did before they sustained the injury. It is often difficult for people to maintain concentration and to think clearly. In order to make completing tasks less onerous and to avoid making mistakes it is a good idea to use the following cognitive strategies:

• Concentrate on completing one task at a time, rather than juggling multiple projects.
• Set alarms to take regular breaks.
• Make a daily ‘to-do’ list to keep on track of tasks
• Use a diary to schedule your time in order to avoid taking too much on.

If you’re taking medication to manage the symptoms you are facing as a result of your brain injury these may have an effect on concentration levels. Organise to complete higher priority tasks when you’re medication doesn’t make you feel drowsy or lethargic.

What to do if you would like to make a brain injury claim?

If you, or a loved one, has suffered a head or brain injury as a result of somebody else’s negligence, for example through a road traffic accident, an accident at work or through medical negligence, you may be eligible to make a claim. Speak to one of our head and brain injury specialist solicitors today, for a free, no obligation assessment of your case.

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