Whether you take up a hobby, attend your local Headway group, or just meet up with friends, having an active social life plays an important role in boosting both mental and physical wellbeing and may even aid a brain injury survivor’s recovery.
Maintaining a social life is particularly important following a brain injury. Social isolation is a common problem after a brain injury and Headway’s own research shows that more than 70% of brain injury survivors have seen deterioration in their social life.
In many cases this stems from changes in personality, cognition and behaviour which may be difficult for friends and family to accept.
Furthermore, the effects of brain injury can make the act of socialising more challenging. For example, noisy environments might become overwhelming and fatigue may limit the time a person can spend socialising.
Because of these additional problems, many people withdraw from socialising altogether, but with the right support and preparation it is often possible to have an active and fulfilling social life after brain injury.
In this special feature we talk about all things social, including the challenges brain injury survivors may face.
Many brain injury survivors experience communication difficulties following their injury. This can be a short-term effect or a more permanent consequence of the brain injury.
As a brain injury survivor, you might have difficulty processing and relaying information, which may lead to slowed speech or impaired social communication skills. You may also experience aphasia, which causes impairment in the understanding of language and impacts speech output.
For a person experiencing communication difficulties the idea of socialising is likely to be a daunting prospect. Here are some tips that might help:
Find out more in our e-booklet: Coping with communication problems
Engaging with, and contributing to, conversation is a key part of socialising. But following brain injury, a survivor's ability to process and retain information may be reduced, making social situations a challenge.
Paired with common effects of brain injury such as sensitivity to noise, communication problems and fatigue, socialising may seem like a daunting and sometimes impossible task for many.
It's important that family members, friends and colleagues are also aware of the challenges that go hand-in-hand with socialising after brain injury. Many effects of brain injury are hidden and may often go unnoticed, making it difficult to spot the warning signs.
If you're socialising with someone who's sustained a brain injury, perhaps suggest moving to a quieter room to chat or avoid noisy and busy places altogether. Likewise, ask the individual if they're feeling okay or if there's anything you can do to make them more comfortable with the environment.
You can find out more about socialising after brain injury by reading Ross Davies' story and watching our Lost in a crowd campaign video.
Following a brain injury emotional changes are common. Depression and anxiety are particularly prevalent among brain injury survivors, with half of people experiencing it in the first year following their injury.
Anger management problems are also a common side-effect of brain injury. This can lead to unpredictable and sometimes aggressive behaviour.
Emotional effects can make socialising difficult. Depression and anxiety can reduce a person’s motivation to socialise and make it harder for them to enjoy activities with friends, while anger problems can drive away those closest to a person.
However, having the support of friends and family is important when managing the emotional effects of a brain injury, and socialising may bring about a temporary distraction. Talk to those closest to you about how you’re feeling and what they can do to help make things easier.
It may help if you refer them to Someone I know has a brain injury.
Many friendship groups enjoy music and dancing to let off steam and have fun at the weekend. If your friends enjoy clubbing, gigging or festivals then having a brain injury doesn’t have to be a barrier to taking part.
However, the nature of loud music, flashing lights and crowded areas can be challenging for someone with a brain injury.
Symptoms such as noise and light sensitivity can be exacerbated. Furthermore, flashing lights can trigger headaches or even bring about seizures for people who developed epilepsy following their brain injury.
If you are attending a club or festival with friends then make sure they are aware of any problems you may experience and know what to do should you need help. Consider taking measures to reduce certain symptoms, for example wearing noise-cancelling headphones or sunglasses.
For many people, socialisation revolves around alcohol. Trips to the pub, meals out, celebrations and parties often involve a pint of beer or a glass of wine (or two or three...)
While alcohol can reduce inhibitions and make you feel more confident in social situations it can also have a negative impact on recovery and overall wellbeing.
After a brain injury the body’s tolerance to alcohol may be reduced, and many effects of brain injury can be exacerbated.
Therefore, if you do decide to have a drink, proceed with caution and make sure you have a good friend looking out for you.
Don’t feel peer pressured into drinking if you’d prefer not to. There’s no shame in having a soft drink, or perhaps try an alcohol-free alternative.
Many survivors find that when out socialising, individuals wrongly assume they're drunk due to the effects of their injury, such as slurred speech and balance problems.
This may cause the survivor to avoid social situations altogether from fear of being judged or mistreated.
Luckily, the Headway Brain Injury Identity Card has been designed to help in these situations.
The ID card not only helps police officers and staff more easily identify brain injury survivors, but it also provides survivors with added confidence in everyday social scenarios.
For those living with the effects of brain injury, the idea of dating can be a challenging prospect. The emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physical effects of brain injury may bring about additional challenges when reintroducing yourself to the dating scene.
Being in the right mindset for dating, going on a few initial dates and taking things at your own pace can help with forming new relationships.
While socialising is a great way to meet prospective new partners, for brain injury survivors struggling to come to terms with the hidden and fluctuating effects of their injury, this may not be a viable option.
Alternative options may include joining a group based on your hobbies and interests or hosting small get-togethers where your friends bring along some of their friends.
Online dating has also become a popular way to meet potential matches, but caution is advised with this.
Some of our top tips for dating after brain injury include:
Don’t feel pressured to tell people about the effects of your brain injury if you don’t feel comfortable in doing so.
If and when you do decide to tell your partner about your brain injury, it may be useful to take advantage of the Headway factsheets and booklets.
Most of the time the effects of a brain injury are hidden and it often isn’t immediately obvious that a person has a brain injury. When meeting new people a brain injury survivor can be left with a decision – to tell or not to tell?
You might be unsure whether to tell new friends about your injury in case they don’t understand or think of you differently. On the other hand, having supportive friends who accept you for who you are is important. It’s a decision only you can make!
Read more about this in our feature: Brain injury: To tell or not to tell?
When meeting friends or attending a group or activity one important consideration is how you are going to get there. People who drive often take transport for granted but for many brain injury survivors getting from A to B can be more of a challenge.
Public transport is invaluable to some brain injury survivors, granting freedom and independence. However, the effects of a brain injury can present challenges. Find out more about public transport, including discounts, accessibility and tips for managing the effects of your injury in Stop the bus: a guide to public transport.
Many brain injury survivors are able to continue driving following their injury. Find out more about driving after a brain injury here.
If you find travelling to a location is a barrier to you socialising then consider speaking with friends and family to see whether they can help. Friends might be happy to give you a lift or arrange activities in a place that you can more easily get to.
When it comes to socialising following brain injury, it's not just survivors who may face difficulties, but their carers too.
It's important that when caring for a loved one with a brain injury, you take time out to focus on your own health and wellbeing, and socialising can play a key role in this.
Throughout the UK, many of our Headway groups and branches help to support carers by hosting dedicated days out, drop-in sessions and support programmes. These activities can be a great way to not only learn more about the role of a carer, but to also connect with those in similar situations and make friends.
The friendships formed at Headway groups provide a means by which carers can share their experiences and help support one and other to cope with the challenges of everyday life.
Find out more about attending a Headway group as a carer in our special feature: Getting carers connected.