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Caregivers share their stories of support for TBI recovery

Group of people walking and on wheelchairs through the forest Participants of the Air Force Special Operations Command Caregiver and Resilience Education summit walk the Gatlinburg trail in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in April 2019. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Lynette Rolen.)

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After her husband returned home from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury, Jasmin Blair immediately saw the signs of distress in him. Wally, her Marine husband, became increasingly irritable, which created difficulty for her and their family.

After recommending he seek help at the TBI clinic at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, she recognized the importance of family in his recovery. She now helps Wally by putting his phone and keys where he can find them in the morning, setting up a calendar so the entire family knows about upcoming medical appointments, and accompanies him to the TBI clinic so she can be a more informed caregiver.

“I don’t necessarily view myself as a caregiver. I view myself more as a spouse that just wants to help her husband lead a fulfilling life,” Jasmin Blair said. “It’s important to be an advocate for your service member to better help with their treatment plans. You need to go to whatever appointments you possibly can to make sure that information is being given to better help with their recovery process. Recovery is possible to help lead a normal life. You just have to make sure you’re looking for help in the places that will help you do it.”

When asked of his experience, Wally explained, “I received the Purple Heart as a result of the 2007 IED [improvised explosive device] strike. My wife and family deserve it more than anything, I mean, they’ve paid more of a price than I have.”

Jasmin Blair recounted her experiences as part of a video series produced by A Head For the Future, an educational initiative of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), the Defense Department’s TBI center of excellence. The center is a division of the Defense Health Agency Research and Development Directorate.

The “TBI Champions” video series honors service members and veterans who sought help when diagnosed with TBIs, chronicled some of the challenges caregivers face, and how caregivers can avoid burnout.

Marking November as National Family Caregivers Month, DVBIC continues to develop tools and resources for and about the quality of life of caregivers who treat service members diagnosed with TBI. It is actively collecting empirical data on caregivers as part of an ongoing congressionally mandated study. In recently released research, DVBIC developed the Traumatic Brain Injury Caregiver Quality of Life measurement tool. The tool assesses how caregivers feel about loss of self-identity, or whether they feel trapped or anxious or stressed. Developed with federal and academic partners, the tool has been shown to be a reliable and valid instrument for measuring quality of life. In the future, it could help identify caregivers who need rest from their responsibilities or who are at-risk for developing mental and physical health difficulties.

In another A Head For the Future video, former Army Sergeant Victor Medina and his wife, Roxana Delgado, discuss how becoming a TBI patient and caregiver transformed their relationship. Medina received a moderate TBI on his third deployment to Iraq when an explosive device hit his vehicle. Upon returning home, his mobility was severely affected, and his wife had to drive him everywhere and cut his food when he ate. After 18 months of rehabilitation, his condition improved. “We don’t define our life based on what exists but how we live. So twenty years from now, we’ll have two sets of memories, before and after the injury. They’re both gonna be beautiful,” Delgado said.

All of the initiative’s resources, including a compilation video called “Find Your Story,” are available on DVBIC’s website. DVBIC and the Department of Defense have resources available to help caregivers deal with their responsibilities and maintain their own health. “Caring for the caregiver allows for better care of our service members and veterans,” DVBIC program analyst Johanna Smith said. By promoting both better care and better health, caregivers ultimately contribute to improved readiness—all prominent goals of the Defense Health Agency.

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Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is structural alteration of the brain or physiological disruption of brain function caused by an external force.  TBI, particularly mild TBI or concussion, is the most common traumatic injury in the U.S. military. This analysis provides the estimated rates of incident TBIs among service members before their first-ever deployment as well as separately among service members during deployments/ after deployments. It also mentions factors that may explain why the TBI incidence rates among the previously deployed were higher than those of the never-deployed group. Moreover, it describes the demographic and military traits of service members diagnosed as TBI cases (before/after deployment). Categorization of person time during surveillance period included four categories: Group 1 (Never deployed/TBI before first-ever deployment), Group 2 (Currently deployed or within 30 days of return), Group 3 (previously deployed but not currently deployed nor within 30 days of return) and Censored after Diagnosis of TBI. From 2001-2016, 276,858 active component service members received first-time diagnoses of TBI. The crude overall incidence rate of TBI among deployed service members was 1.5 times that of service members assigned to Group 1 and 1.2 times that of service members in Group 3 during the surveillance period.  Total TBI cases by group were Group 1 42.8%, Group 2 13.2% and Group 3 44.0%. Incidence rates by group (per 100,000 person-years) were Group 1 1,141.3, Group 2 1,690.5, and Group 3 1,451.2. Learn more at www.Health.mil/MSMR and see fact sheets at www.Health.mil/AFHSB

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