Stress and coping among families of patients with traumatic brain injury: a review of the literature


  • Sofie Verhaeghe MSc, RN,

  • Tom Defloor MSc, PhD, RN,

  • Mieke Grypdonck MSc, PhD, RN

Sofie Verhaeghe
Nursing Science
Ghent University
UZ blok A 2°
De Pintelaan 185
9000 Ghent
Telephone: +32 (0) 9240 3694


Aims and objectives.  This literature review aims to structure the available information on the psychological reactions of family members confronted with traumatic brain injury. The stress–coping theory and the systems theory provide the theoretical framework for this review.

Method.  Literature review.

Results.  The level of stress experienced by the family members of patients who have traumatic brain injury is such that professional intervention is appropriate, even after 10–15 years. Not the severity of the injury but the nature of the injuries determines the level of stress. Partners experience more stress than parents. Children have specific difficulties. Young families with little social support, financial, psychiatric and/or medical problems are the most vulnerable. Coping with traumatic brain injury can be described in phases. The better family members can cope with the situation, the better the patient's recovery. There are functional and non-functional coping mechanisms and coping is influenced by such factors as gender, social and professional support and the possibility to have reciprocal communication or an affective relation with the patient.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Support from professionals reduces the stress being experienced and encourages people to cope effectively. Conflicts with professional carers should be avoided. Every attempt should be made to develop models of long-term support and care that alleviate sources of burden on relatives. Further research is necessary to develop such models.