People who have had a moderate or severe head injury may spend weeks or months in hospital before they are ready to go on to rehabilitation or to return home. Whether you go straight home from hospital, or into a neuro-rehabilitation center, depends on your needs. Before you leave hospital, you will have an assessment and be given a care plan. This will outline the next steps to help your recovery, such as physiotherapy or speech therapy.
Once you are ready to go home, you may still need help in order to become more independent and reach your goals. You should continue to get therapy from a community-based team. It is worth finding out what services are available near you to get as much help as you can. For example, you may qualify for state benefits or you may be able to get adjustments to your home, special equipment, help with chores around the house, special transport, or advice on getting back to work.
You may be impatient to get back to your everyday routine and resume activities like driving or going to work. However, it is important to give yourself time to adjust and recover. The time it takes will be different from person to person and what is enough time for one person may not be enough for another. For some people, it may not be realistic to go back to life as it was before the head injury.
Can I drive?
Having a serious head injury will most likely affect your right to hold a current driving licence. You are legally obliged to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about your condition and must not drive until you have DVLA approval. You might be permitted to resume driving once a doctor has confirmed that you have made a full recovery.
If you are experiencing problems as a result of the injury you might not be allowed to drive for a given period of time (often one year). The DVLA might give your General Practitioner (GP) this information instead of giving it directly to you. If you have seizures, this period might be extended until the seizures are controlled. If you continue driving without DVLA approval, insurers will not be obliged to meet any costs and you might be uninsured. This would make you personally liable for any damage you cause to others.
If you have any disabilities you will probably need a medical examination to be certain you can control a vehicle safely. Also, modifications to your vehicle might be required and your vision will also be checked. You can re-apply for your licence before the date you are scheduled to return to driving so that it is ready by the time this date comes around. However, you will probably only be given a three year licence. Furthermore, many insurance companies increase the rates for people who have had a head injury, so you might need to consider changing your insurance provider to get a more affordable policy. Regulations are stricter for HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) or PSV (Public Service Vehicle) licences.
Can I fly?
Yes, depending on your recovery. There is nothing to stop you from flying once you are fit enough to do so. You might experience headaches during take-off and landing due to pressure changes. You should increase your fluid intake, but try to avoid alcohol and caffeine as these can dehydrate the brain and increase the risk of headaches. Keep in mind that air travel can be stressful for people in good health so it can be especially stressful if you are feeling unwell.
Can I play sports?
Everyone is affected differently by head injuries and you will need to take it easy during your recovery. This means that it may not be appropriate for you to embark on an exercise regime for months after your injury. You will go through a period of rehabilitation with physiotherapy and occupational therapy exercises that will help you regain basic physical skills.
Your physiotherapist, GP, or specialist will tell you what type of physical activity is suitable for you and when you can start increasing your levels of activity. You should avoid all contact sports like rugby, boxing or martial arts, and strenuous exercise like lifting weights, for at least six months. You can then discuss with your specialist the possibility of resuming these sports if you wish to.
Can I drink alcohol?
You should not drink any alcohol for the first three weeks after sustaining a head injury. After that period of time, small amounts of alcohol are safe (although you are likely to feel the effects more than you used to). There is also a risk of provoking a seizure if you drink too much. Some people find that they have more severe hangovers after a head injury. If you are taking any medication – especially anti-epileptic drugs – you should check with your doctor if it is safe to drink alcohol.
When can I go back to work?
After your head injury you may not be able to do all the things you previously could. You may be affected by psychological problems, like memory and concentration, and physical problems, such as mobility. It is important to take things slowly, like not returning to work before you are ready, and consider ways in which you could adapt your work or workplace to make things easier for you.
Before returning to work, you should check with your GP or specialist to make sure they agree you are ready. If appropriate, many people find it helpful to go back part-time or for a few hours each week before returning to full-time status. Neurosupport, the charity providing non-medical information and support to people with neurological conditions, runs an Employment and Community Service to help and advise people affected by brain injuries with any issues to do with employment or in finding a meaningful alternative to work. When someone has had a serious head injury, it is hard to know what will happen in the future, how the person will recover and what kind of care they will need.
Want more information?
For information on home care options for you or a loved one, visit Our Specialties page or give us a call at 866-8668984!
Brain & Spine Foundation (2013, October) Going home and rehabilitation after a moderate to severe head injury. Retrieved February, 26, 2016.