Traumatic Brain Injuries: Impact on Relationships Can Be Profound

When someone suffers a serious brain injury, the effect on his or her personal relationships can be profound.

New York City brain injury attorneys are keenly aware of this.

Last winter, the New York Times published an article entitled “When Injuries to the Brain Tear at Hearts.” The piece outlined some of the challenges facing couples after one of them suffers a severe brain injury. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her astronaut husband, Mark E. Kelly, are among the couples who have faced this challenge.

This week, another husband whose wife suffered a brain injury shared his story. Kurt and Jennifer Olsen were still virtually newlyweds when Jennifer suffered terrible brain damage in a car accident in 2009.

Initially, Elizabeth was in a coma, with a discouraging prognosis that could have left her in a vegetative state.

Today, almost three years later, she has regained partial brain function. But she is still unable to control her emotions and lacks cognitive coherence.

Kurt Olsen has had to become a caregiver for his wife’s most basic needs. He feeds her, bathes her and carries her from room to room. Kurt also assists with daily therapy exercises intended to help Elizabeth rebuild her physical and mental capacity.

Kurt Olsen is still committed to caring for his wife. But he admits he’s in a lot of emotional pain from his wife’s TBI.

Jeffrey Kreutzer, a psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, says that couples like the Olsens, or Giffords and Kelly suffer “ambiguous loss.” It can be hard to accept how much of the past relationship is gone, and recognize how much can be reformed on a different basis.

Source: “Traumatic brain injuries challenge marriages,” Pamela Brown,, 4-30-12

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