February 23, 1995 in Nation/World

Injured, Families Require Help

By The Spokesman-Review
 

After the initial tragedy of a disabling head injury like Erin Rockstrom’s, friends generally rush to lavish help and support on family members.

As the days grind by and the victim languishes, the attention and help taper away, leaving family members alone, depressed and frustrated.

In the Rockstrom case, the teen’s grandmother stopped visiting because she couldn’t bear to see what a bullet had done to the once vivacious girl.

“What happened to Erin would be devastating for any family to deal with,” said John R. Layman, president of the Spokane chapter of the Washington State Head Injury Foundation.

The case, said clinical psychologist Paul Domitor, “says a little something about how we’ve all let them down.”

Losing independence, agility and then relationships with friends and relatives can send the most stable family reeling.

Family members try desperately to keep up with the needs of a loved one whose personality they barely recognize, who may not remember from one moment to the next what he or she has been told and who often lashes out in anger.

“It totally disrupts the whole family,” said Layman. “The focus has to be to take care of this (injured) person’s problems. Everybody else’s needs get neglected.”

About 80 percent of people with brain injuries become clinically depressed within one year, said neuropsychologist Allen Bostwick.

“They’re aware they’re dependent. They don’t have any control in their life.”

Those caring for head injury patients and others requiring aroundthe-clock attention need breaks from the routine, psychologists say.

They struggle to adjust to relatives with vastly different, often demanding personalities. They must learn to repeat things over and over without losing their temper.

“We need to rally around them,” Domitor said. “From churches and things, there has to be an outpouring of support. People tend to fade away.

“We have to try and help that person get as better as they can and help reintegrate them into the community.”

Steve Saunders, a speechlanguage pathologist, said Spokane needs both stronger social support networks and more independentliving facilities for survivors of head injuries.

“There’s a strong need for recreational outlets for the patient and the people taking care of them,” Saunders said.

Spokane’s chapter of the Washington State Head Injury Foundation offers support groups for both the injured and their families.

At meetings and social gatherings, they share stories about their injuries, recoveries and frustrations.

Psychologists agree depression for both caretaker and the injured often can be controlled with counseling, the passage of time and perhaps changes in medication.

“Recovery from head injury is a lifelong process,” Saunders said.

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