I adapted this list from a similar list put together for those with cancer by Elana Miller, MD is a psychiatrist passionate about integrating Eastern Wisdom with Western medicine to help people live happier and fuller lives. Many of the ideas are very similar for many health situations. I updated it for those with brain injuries.
Having sustained anoxic brain injury myself from cardiac arrest and two grand mal seizures in December 2013, I have some idea what those with brain injures experience, albeit we all experience different changes and challenges from our brain injuries. There may be some that don’t apply or that I missed and I’ll have to give my brain injury credit for that.
1. Deliver a meal. Make sure to ask in advance if they have any dietary restrictions or are following any guidelines. Stay for a visit, or just drop off the food if they're not up for it (a cooler left outside the front door is perfect for this).
2. Deliver a Tupperware of several pre-made meals your friend can heat up as needed. Use Tupperware you don't need returned.
3. Send a quick email, text, or message saying you're thinking of them.
4. Add "No need to respond" to the end of your message -- they'll appreciate hearing from you without feeling the need to do anything in return.
5. Add "Feel free to take me up on this offer whenever" when you offer help -- they'll know the offer will still be sincere whenever they need it (in a week, a month, a year).
6. Set a calendar alert reminding you to check in with a quick hello or offer of help on a regular basis.
7. Send a text the next time you're at the grocery store and ask if they'd like you to pick anything up.
8. Send a text the next time you're at the drugstore to see if they need any toiletries.
9. Send a housekeeper to clean up their place. Take care of the details so they just need to be there to open the door.
10. Send a text the next time you're at the pharmacy to see if they need any prescriptions picked up.
11. Send a mobile masseuse for a gift massage.
12. Offer to take them out for a coffee or lunch date, if they are able. Otherwise bring it in to them or bring them to your place for it. Quiet and relaxed works well. Sometimes the noise and sensory overload of going out to restaurants is too much for them to be able to enjoy it and instead turns out to be an exhausting experience for them.
13. Offer to visit. Check that they're feeling up for it.
14. Offer to come by with a rental movie (comedy or something mild, avoid all intense topics with high intensity action, horror, drama) as the ability to deal with all forms of sensory input are extremely difficult for the brain injured person to deal with. They basically have no ability to filter out all the intensity and it quickly becomes physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.
15. Offer a ride to therapy appointments and keep them company during the treatment. Even better, commit to giving a ride on a regular basis throughout their treatments.
16. Let them know you're "on call" for emergencies. Mean it.
17. Send a flower delivery. However, make sure flowers don’t cause a problem for them.
18. Express your gratitude for them or something about them. It helps them know they are still valued.
19. Gift a magazine or newspaper subscription.
20. Gift a good book.
21. Tell them you love and care about them. Even if they don't have the energy to respond, your message means a lot.
22. For your lady brain injured friend, take her out to a nice beauty treatment. Think: manicure/pedicure, facial, makeup application, etc. It may be the first time she's splurged on her appearance in a while.
23. Send a card. Make sure it's legible.
24. If you're a close friend or family member to the brain injured patient, offer to be a "point person" where you screen and accept/decline others' visit and help offers. Right after the brain injury there are many who want to help and visit and call, but the brain injured person is probably extremely overwhelmed at this time and may prefer some space.
25. Instead of asking "How are you feeling?" ask "What can I do for you?"
26. Understand that a brain injured person is likely too overwhelmed to ask for what they need; take the initiative by offering specifics, instead of saying, "Let me know if there's anything I can do for you."
27. Remember to still be there a few months after the brain injury, when it's not so new anymore. The fanfare will have died down, but your friend will still be struggling and needing logistical and emotional help.
28. Offer to be the "communication person" that updates others about your friend's state of health; it can get difficult to have to share the details over and over.
29. On that note, when you check in, don't always ask for all the details about the current state of your friend's health.
30. Does your friend have a dog? Offer to come by and take them for a walk or to the groomers.
31. Does your friend have kids? Offer to babysit, do a school pick-up, or have them over for a sleepover.
32. Say, "Give me a task." Maybe it will be laundry, or an errand, or picking up groceries. Be in and out. No socializing needed.
33. Does your friend have a garden? Offer to come by and do some watering and care. Even better, commit to taking over the watering regularly.
34. Text or email a silly joke or photo.
35. Offer to help your friend sift through and respond to emails; after a brain injury the number of emails can be overwhelming and important ones can get lost in the shuffle.
36. Offer to create and manage a schedule for the person: for meal deliveries, rides to therapy appointments, visits from friends, etc. Websites like takethemameal.com andlotsahelpinghands.com can help.
37. If you can, and your friend feels comfortable accepting it, give some cash -- between hospital bills and the loss of income if one can't work, brain injuries can be a huge financial hit.
38. Donate money to cover paid-time-off hours for the patient or close family members (some employers allow this).
39. Buy a monthly parking pass for family members when the patient has a prolonged hospitalization -- hospital parking can get expensive!
40. Don't make fun of the situation. I remember on several occasions people saying things like "Well you shouldn't be wearing stilettos out in the ice" or "Sounds like you need to wear a helmet in your parking lot" or "Were you attempting Crashed Ice?" These attempts at humor are not at all funny in the days after a traumatic accident. Not to mention that brain injuries cause you to cry at every little thing.
41. Please! Don't ever say to someone "It's just a concussion. You'll be fine." Or “You’ll be back to your normal self sooner than you know”. That is not what we want to hear, and it's simply not the truth. Instead, ask them if they need anything. Offer to bring them a meal (I couldn't figure out how to use my microwave, let alone my oven, for a few days after my accident) or run some errands for them (I had no idea how to use the ATM at the bank).
42. Just listen. Don't give advice, don't try to be cheery -- just listen and let your buddy talk.
43. Ask what they need from you most right now... and then do it.
44. Brain Injury isn't contagious -- give your friend a hug to let them know you're on their side.
45. Help the caregivers too! Many of the above can also be used to make the day for a primary caregiver, most often a spouse or other close family member. They need breaks; they have also experienced a loss, in addition to taking care of the brain injured person.