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Out of the blue: living with a traumatic brain injury

June 30 2023

One in three of the people who live at Livability Treetops moved there because of an acquired brain injury. Their lives were changed in an instant, whether in their twenties or fifties, by events including a heart-stopping electric shock, a car accident and a bleed on the brain. Area manager Mandy Nixon unpacks the effects of this type of injury and how specialised care at Treetops enables people to live their best lives.

Tell us about Livability Treetops, Mandy

We provide specialised nursing care for 21 residents. I’ve been nursing at Treetops for 21 years, and when I arrived here, we mainly cared for people with multiple sclerosis, but now, with medical advances, we’re supporting people with a wide range of very complex needs.

If you experience a brain injury, what areas of your life tend to be affected?

Just about everything can be affected: speech, cognition and concentration, sight, continence. It depends on which part of the brain is injured and how severely. Personality frequently changes, sometimes with people becoming more aggressive, which can be chemical or because of frustration. Most people will be on anti-depressants to try to find the right chemical balance for them.

How does Treetops support people to live with a brain injury?

Everyone is an individual and that person is right at the centre of our care. How we support them will depend on what they, and their loved ones, want to achieve. We have strong relationships with clinicians in Colchester, including orthotics for splinting, physiotherapy, speech and language. Dieticians advise on any changes needed, depending on how well the person can swallow.

Staff member performing physio therapy on a person we support

We work quite a bit with our residents’ families too. By the time someone arrives with us, their loved one has usually been treated in hospital for a while, so families have dealt with the initial shock of the injury. But it’s a lot for them to take in and our staff are always available to listen, whether an informal chat or a meeting. I don’t care if I have something booked in the diary, I will always put that aside if people need to talk things through.

How do your team contribute?

We take care to nurture our staff here and that has a knock-on effect on how the team performs. We give people vast amounts of training, starting with Livability’s induction course and then adding in-house training for the specific needs here, such as catheter care, or supporting people with cerebral palsy. All residents have a keyworker, someone they have gelled with, who is there for support and who can liaise with family members. Because we have staff and people we support from different age groups, we have quite a family feel in the home, with younger staff knowing about stuff like what music younger residents enjoy, and older staff perhaps being a ‘mum’ figure to some.

Person we support and staff member using sensory lighting and optics

Can you tell us about an individual who is flourishing at Treetops?

Yes, we have Phoebe* who’s now 28 and had a catastrophic brain bleed out of the blue when she was in her early twenties. Phoebe came to us a few years after her injury, and usually there’s an optimum window of about two years for the best chance of progress after a brain injury. But Phoebe, who was an accomplished musician, has come on leaps and bounds with her speech, mobility, singing and has even played the recorder for me!

What difference do our supporters make to someone like Phoebe?

Supporting Livability enables us to have highly trained staff teams that have time for people and their families, as well as providing the essentials of daily care. It means sometimes we’re able to purchase specialist equipment which helps people progress their rehabilitation. It means Livability can be there when the unthinkable happens to us or someone we love.

*name changed

 

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Out of the blue: living with a traumatic brain injury

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