In continued recognition of Brain Injury Awareness Month, this is the second in a series of blog posts examining the stories of military families affected by traumatic brain injury (TBI). Last week’s post reviewed several books on TBI written specifically for children affected by a military-connect parent’s brain injury. This week I will focus on the experience of the injured individual’s spouse by reviewing related research, first-person accounts, and resources available to support partners as they learn to navigate the often-unfamiliar role of caregiver.
The 2014 RAND Study of Military Caregivers reported that the majority of post-9/11 military/Veteran TBI caregivers were spouses, a change from pre-9/11 statistics that identified parents or children as the most likely caregivers for injured Service members. Research focused on military TBI caregivers has identified changing social roles, particularly the difficulty transitioning from the role of a spouse to that of a caregiver, as a primary issue for military couples affected by TBI (Carlozzi et al., 2016). As one spouse described it in a qualitative study of TBI caregivers’ perspectives on quality of life: “Your children get older, and they’re adults, and now you want them to be independent, but you’re still their parent. Whereas with a spouse, I was never a parent before with him. Now I feel like a parent. And that creates tension, because he doesn’t like it” (Kratz et al., 2017).
But, as with many aspects of military life, becoming a caregiver to a spouse who has experienced a TBI is also an opportunity for growth and resilience. While research provides valuable information about caregiver and TBI statistics, there is also a wealth of information that can be learned by sharing in the personal accounts of caregivers and couples, examples of which include:
DVBIC, the Defense Health Board, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and other congressional and federal representatives collaborated to develop a comprehensive Family Caregiver Curriculum to provide a source of information and support for caregivers of service members and veterans with moderate to severe TBI. Comprised of four modules, the curriculum provides information and resources to help caregivers support their injured service member/Veteran and to provide needed self-care during this strenuous process. Regardless of whether they are new to the role of TBI caregiver or have substantial experience in navigating the process, the Family Caregiver Curriculum is an excellent resource for sharing with your clients.
In next week’s blog, we will continue to explore the effects of TBI on military families by highlighting first-hand accounts from Service members and Veterans, detailing their experience of TBI and their paths to recovery.
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Jennifer M. Phillips, Ph.D., is the Assistant Director for Research and Evaluation for the Center for Deployment Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Bethesda, Maryland.