Loneliness post brain injury - How neuro occupational therapy can help combat loneliness

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Loneliness post brain injury - How neuro occupational therapy can help combat loneliness

It is likely all of us at some point in our lives will experience loneliness; that desolate feeling of solitude that wells up in response to unwanted isolation.

Indeed, according to the world’s largest ever loneliness survey conducted by the BBC last year, up to 40 per cent of us have experienced loneliness ‘often’ or ‘very often’.

But what happens when you factor in a brain injury that hinders your ability physically and/or cognitively to take part in work and activities, access the community and connect with others?

Unsurprisingly, in answer to this, research paints a bleak picture.

Earlier this year, a Canadian study of 592 brain injury survivors explored links between their injury, mental health, social isolation and loneliness, and found:


  • High levels of depression, with almost half reporting moderate or severe levels
  • Over 40 per cent experienced suicidal thoughts
  • Lower than normal life satisfaction


In another study in the Netherlands , researchers focused on 70 brain injury survivors to see how their particular social network was affecting their quality of life.

They were able to pin down four major factors that prevent survivors from resuming activities:


  • Lack of support from key social members such as family and friends.
  • Over-protectiveness among loved ones.
  • Overly high demands.
  • Being prevented from meeting others.


They concluded: ‘An available, understanding and well-informed network enhances activity resumption by being inclusive and encouraging patients to develop their skills.


Our Neuro OTs are skilled in analysing how external factors, including social exclusion, affect an individual’s performance and participation in the activities of daily life.

They assess the physical and psychological impact of the brain or spinal injury on their client, their physical environment, their motivations and wishes, and the effect their social network – or lack of - is having on their well-being.

They then support their clients in considering, accessing and trialling activity options, particularly those which increase the chances of inter-personal connections should loneliness be one of the key concerns.

This approach, both holistic and clinical, is also designed to empower the client to make their own life choices and decisions.


The Netherlands study made several recommendations to help stave off social exclusion among brain injury survivors in future:

Soon after the brain injury, rehabilitation professionals should be:


  • Providing ongoing support for survivors when formal rehabilitation ceases.
  • Ensuring network members are available, both physically and emotionally.
  • Educating network members and others on how to provide the right support.
  • Analysing the survivor’s social network for features that encourage activity resumption and inclusion.
  • Explaining to social network members the importance of activity resumption and the adverse effects of being overprotective or over-demanding.
  • Including network members, such as friends or colleagues, in the rehabilitation process.
  • Ensuring others respect the survivor’s wishes, concerns, and desires or best interests.


Carers too suffer high levels of loneliness. More here:

Loneliness amongst carers at epidemic levels

The UK’s brain injury association, Headway offers advice and support for survivors and their families at any time of year. Contact 0800 800 2244 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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