The following tips can help people with brain injury with socializing. They can also help you keep your own active social life.
Learn something new
Trying new activities helps the person with a brain injury meet new people, which can expand their social network. Not only do new activities lead to new experiences, but they can have a positive effect on the person’s wellbeing by sharpening their cognitive skills. New activities include:
- Joining a book club
- Joining a craft group
- Joining a fundraising group
- Joining a walking group
- Learning something at a local community centre
- Signing up for a class
- Taking lessons for art or music
Anything the person finds interesting or motivating is an opportunity for socializing.
Find environments that work
Friends and family want to spend time with the person with a brain injury, but they may need some help figuring out what activities are appropriate. When they find an environment or activity where they feel comfortable, make sure to write it down. Use this list of places to help the person with a brain injury plan their social events. This list can also be shared with your friends and family.
Spontaneous or unplanned social interactions can be overwhelming and leave a person feeling unprepared. They also may not have the ability to say no if they are surprised. By scheduling social events, they will be able to adequately prepare for conversation and activities, get plenty of rest beforehand, and adjust any weekly timetables they may have.
Offer to help
You are a valuable support to the person with a brain injury and can be a big help in managing social situations. You can do this by helping them stay calm and interpret conversation they may not understand. The person can ask for your help with tasks such as getting to and from social events as well. They may not feel fully comfortable asking for your help, so make sure they know they can depend on you.
It’s also important that you don’t say yes to something you don’t have the time or capacity to do. Sometimes the answer will have to be no. When that’s the case, make sure the person knows their other options. For example, if they need to go somewhere they could ask someone else or call a taxi (if they are able to travel alone). You can also help them understand how to make a plan in advance. For example, if they need your help getting to an appointment, they should ask well in advance of the appointment (not the day of), look at both your schedules, and use please and thank you.
Talk to the local brain injury association or group
Many areas in Canada have a local brain injury association or support group. Some of these offer social events and services that connect individuals living with acquired brain injury.
Create a list for friends
One reason individuals with brain injuries experience social isolation is because they feel like their friends and family don’t understand them. This includes what they can and can’t do socially.
You can have a list of social activities or places that work for the person with a brain injury. A list is something that can be shared with your family and friends. The list should include what they like to do and what activities they need to avoid or limit. This could include loud noises, bright lights, or overcrowded spaces.
Practice common social interactions
Some interactions are more common than others. For example, speaking with a worker at a store checkout or to waitstaff at a restaurant. These are the types of interactions you can practice with a person with a brain injury, so the situation will be familiar, predictable, and consistent for them. This is especially helpful if they have trouble with impulsivity and making decisions in the moment.
Come up with signals
If your friend or family member is engaging in a social activity and you are with them, having signals can be a helpful way of navigating social situations. You can have signals – these could be a word or a hand movement – that have different meanings. For example:
- Palms of the hands pressed together and raised to the cheek: I’m tired, I need to leave
- Hands open, palms up: I don’t understand
You can also use word or hand signals to help them remember to pause and think about their responses. You and the person with a brain injury can develop your own set of hand signals based on their needs. Hand signals may not be the right option for everyone, so it’s important to speak with an occupational therapist or cognitive behavioural therapist. They may have alternate methods for navigating social interactions.
Being social is tiring and can require a lot of energy. Make sure to take breaks during social events. Even if they just need to be alone for 5 minutes or excuse themselves early, taking breaks will help prevent burnout.
Volunteering is a great way to meet people, stay busy, and give back to the community. Some volunteer positions will have specific requirements, so if you have any questions, speak to the organization directly. There are several types of volunteering that may be right for your friend or family member.
- Skills-based volunteering
Skills-based volunteering is when a person takes a volunteer position based on their specialized skills. For example, accountants may take volunteer bookkeeping jobs. Skills-based volunteering can not only provide valuable help to an organization but can help a person hone their skills. This type of volunteering is ideal for survivors who aren’t able to return to work but still want to use their professional skills. Skills-based volunteering can be short-term or long-term.
- Short-term volunteering
Short-term volunteering is ideal for people who can’t commit to continuous volunteer hours. Short-term can mean a set time period or an event. These short-term roles can be faster-paced and require more flexibility and commitment for the volunteer term.
- Long-term volunteering
Long-term volunteering is focused more on maintenance and growth. The volunteer commitment generally lasts longer than 6 months, with a set number of hours per week or per month. Long-term volunteering roles are often administrative, mentoring-based, or in communications – but they can be anything an organization needs.
- Micro volunteering
Volunteer Canada defines micro volunteering as volunteering commitments that are shorter and often require little to no oversight. Activities are designed to be done quickly, and the impact of the volunteer’s actions can be seen more immediately.
- Seasonal volunteering
Some places or events run seasonally or require extra help around a holiday. This kind of volunteering can fall into the category of short-term and can require a varying number of committed hours. Seasonal volunteering can also require certain skills or abilities, so it’s important to check with the organization about their requirements.
Volunteer activities could be:
- Administrative activities
- Physical activities
- Working with animals
- Working with children
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities across Canada. You can help the person with a brain injury find some options that would be right for them.