How Does Fatigue Affect Children With a Brain Injury?

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Although it’s not widely known, fatigue is unfortunately something that a lot of people who’ve suffered a brain injury deal with on a daily basis. This is particularly true amongst children.

Anyone who has experienced fatigue will know that it can have a huge impact on your day-to-day activities, and it isn’t something that can be solved by simply ‘catching up’ on sleep. The effects of fatigue on children can be even more detrimental.

As a parent or guardian, it can be difficult to spot the signs of fatigue. But a few things to look out for include:

  • struggling to get to sleep;
  • finding it hard to stay asleep;
  • needing longer naps;
  • becoming more irritable.

It’s important to note that this isn’t an exhaustive list and there are charities available who can support you if you suspect your child is struggling. We support the Child Brain Injury Trust (CBIT) and this month, they’re putting a particular focus on the link between brain injury and fatigue in children.

We’ll talk more below about what causes fatigue after a brain injury, as well as the impact it can have and what we can do to support children who have been directly affected.

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What Causes the Fatigue?

After a brain injury, there are three main effects causing fatigue which can be summarised as physical, mental and emotional.

Seemingly easy tasks often take considerably more effort to complete. Added to this, the speed you can process thoughts at is also slowed down. These two factors, combined with the potential trauma of a brain injury, can understandably lead to utter exhaustion. 

Fatigue can unfortunately lead to a vicious cycle of feeling a desperate need to sleep but being unable to because of chronic pain, stress about school or exams, and the emotional aftermath of a brain injury.  

What is the Impact?

In children, the impact of fatigue is far-reaching and can affect multiple aspects of life.

At home, you might notice your child’s interactions with family members have changed and they’ve become more withdrawn over time.

The effects of fatigue can also be seen at school. A child might struggle to concentrate, in lessons or even during conversations with friends. Interacting with friends can become increasingly difficult as chats in the playground will often be fast-paced and hard to keep up with.

Unfortunately, the signs of fatigue can often be misunderstood, and it might be perceived that a child isn’t trying hard enough or that their quietness is just a part of their personality.

But with the right support, the impact of fatigue on a child can be significantly reduced.  

How can I Help?

As a parent, you’ll of course want to do anything you can to help your child. Fatigue doesn’t have any ‘quick fix’ but there are things you can do to help your child manage it.

CBIT recommend keeping an ‘Activity Rest and Sleep Diary’ to help you understand what’s causing your child’s fatigue and anything that makes it better or worse. Alternatively, your child could use a fitness tracker to measure their sleep patterns and rest breaks, this will be useful for conversations with your doctors.

Some other things you can do to support them include:

  • Setting a routine – taking time to wind down before bed can help massively help with quality of sleep. Planning ‘down time’ can also be a great way of breaking up the day, try setting alarms as a reminder. Instead of focusing on completing a task, setting periods of time where your child will be working on something could be more beneficial.
  • Educating family and friends – speaking about your child’s fatigue with family members, especially young siblings, can help reduce the pressures of interaction which can cause additional stress.
  • Talking about what’s happened – sometimes the emotional aftermath of a brain injury can worsen fatigue, so talking about what your child is going through at their own pace could bring some relief. Helping to educate your child on their brain can also help and there are great interactive programmes such as My Happy Mind that can support with this.
  • Using relaxation and meditation techniques – this can be particularly useful at bedtime but will also help during the day.
  • Trying not to over-stimulate – reducing screen time on phones and other devices can make a big difference in the quality of sleep your child is getting.

Supporting a child who’s struggling with fatigue can be incredibly difficult and there are resources out there to help you. CBIT have a wide range of articles, guides and workshops that are there to support the parents and guardians of brain injured children.

If you find yourself needing legal support, we can listen to your situation and discuss how we might be able to help you navigate the legal process.

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