Brain injury makes raising kids even more difficult

As you have probably read on my other pages, brain injury changes your life more or less dramatically, especially in the field of raising kids. Usually, your attention span and memory are reduced. Your ability to reason quick and wisely is reduced, having more problems to overview every situation. Your self-control is less than you yourself had expected.

Raising kids requires quite a lot: a full attentional system, a lot of focus and dividing your attention (you have to look everywhere). Furthermore, you have to remember all appointments and things you have said to your children, and all that you have already done or not for them. You have to foresee their school schedule, know who what has to take with him or her, know what a child is doing at school so you can help when needed. You have to be an empathic coach, both listening to sorrow or other pains, and be rather resolute in your guidance. In short, you pretty much have to be Superman or Superwoman in raising kids.

No wonder even healthy adults do have problems in raising kids, now and then. But when your brain is not working properly, well be prepared for some serious trouble when dealing with your kids.

The most common problems in raising kids after brain injury

Overload
Not exactly a scientific word but most people do know exactly what it means. It is the feeling of things getting all too much and not having any control anymore, either complete despair or a complete violent explosion (usually anger). It seems to result from feeling overwhelmed by stimuli like noises, sounds, words, visual images and so forth. In such a state your information processing system can not function any longer and you want to stop all input. And that is not handy in raising kids.

Scientifically there is no real parallel to 'information overload', at least not in a human. In computers or machines there is. Everyone knows the experience when you open far too many programs on your computer and suddenly it jams, it freezes. That's the information overload a computer can have. In a human being it works in the same way, more or less: too many processors have to process too much incoming information. This builds up an emotion or tension and when you can not handle it any longer this tension increases suddenly.

It has to do with what most people do not know: every information processing costs energy. When cognitive tasks are executed in your brain, your cerebral blood flow dynamically changes every millisecond (imaged by a functional MRI-scan). Your blood glucose uptake changes as well (actually measured by such techniques as a PET- or SPECT-scan). This energy surge when doing mental (cognitive) work is usually very underestimated, both by patients and doctors. Largely because in a normal brain it does not feel as an energy surge: there is no sense of fatigue, pain or exhaustion. So everyone is raised with the idea that brain work does not require anything. How different it is with physical work in which you feel the feedback of your muscles almost immediately (and especially 1 or 2 days after your work!).

So when every information processing costs energy (oxygen and glucose), it stands to reason that this energy can be depleted. And when running low on energy the processes will be running less smoothly and efficiently. Causing even more stress (=negative emotion like for example, anxiety, sadness or anger). And stress further reduces your information processing efficiency. So now you have a fairly measurable criterion for fatigue. When the information input keeps going without any reduction at all and your processing system gets fatigued due to less and less energy, you can imagine what happens. There comes a time that your processing can not keep up with all incoming information and this creates tension (intense emotions like anger or anxiety). An 'overload' is imminent.

Actually, this is THE most heard complaint of people with brain damage of any kind: they seem to overload much more easily than 'normal' brains. Unfortunately, this kind of information overload is quite difficult to measure. It requires very sensitive neuropsychological tests which put quite a heavy demand on your information processing system and take at least about 8 minutes. One such test is the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT). However, although sensitive to brain damage, it is not really specific: a lot of normal (brain) people have difficulties in doing this test. More about this test on my page about Neuropsychological tests. More about the concept of Fatigue in relation to brain damage on my page about Fatigue and Brain Injury.

Information overload has also a lot to do with your attentional system. Whenever your working memory or attentional span, or your concentration or divided attention is reduced, you can bet that you are prone to a much faster information overload than other people. Fortunately, we have several good neuropsychological attention tests like the TOSSA and TODA I happen to publish ;). But also the TOVA, IVA and more continuous performance tests are pretty good attention tests that can give some idea about your attentional system. More about these tests on my page Neuropsychological tests.

Aggression or Violence
After brain damage your normal 'hand brake' to regulate your emotions is reduced. It is much easier to experience intense emotions like anger or sadness after any form of brain damage. Especially after an information overload, your emotions can quickly rise to high intensities and then...there is no stopping them. Usually, this results in anger: verbal or even physical aggression towards your children when they start to nag or do not do what you ask them. Every parent has had such an experience with his own children...it belongs to parenthood. However, after a brain damage, these kind of incidents are much more frequent and can lead to feelings of guilt or helplessness. It starts a downward spiral of lowering self-esteem, depressive thoughts and a higher chance of anger and bursts of aggression.

Less patience
Children require a lot of attention and patience. The kind of repetitive questions they ask, the number of 'stupid' things they ask, the constant nagging, all these irritating behaviors are characteristic of young children (and even teens). You'll have to understand as a parent that this is just normal for children. However, it takes a lot of patience to deal with this potentially irritating behaviors. Such patience can only be presented when you have a sufficient amount of impulse control. Because after brain damage this kind of impulse control is often reduced due to a lesser functioning of the (pre)frontal lobes, your patience can be much less than it used to be. Also, when fatigue starts much earlier than normal, patience is reduced as well.

Role changes
Your role as a reliable parent changes after a brain damage. Usually there are cognitive problems like memory, attention, visual or language deficits (see my pages on these Brain Injury Symptoms). This means that you have more problems in interacting reliably with your child. Your daughter or son usually feels this and the normal reaction is an increase in fear. Very simply because you do not deliver a solid, reliable parent. Very young children do not notice this that much, but children in the ages of 4 or older do. They then tend to cling more to the other parent (without brain damage) and that really hurts: it seems another sad loss you've suffered. Your role as a parent however, is not over but it surely has changed. Your partner's role has become more important now and you have to find a new balance together where your children can get used to. Although not easy this can be done. I will tell a lot more about this on my pages about Brain Rehabilitation Training.



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