For 19 years, Steve Locke has worked in Peabody’s supported housing service for people with acquired brain injuries. This Action for Brain Injury Week, he explains why this support is so valuable – and why it needs funding
One of our supported housing customers Jean, once described her experience after having a brain injury.
She said: “I think of my brain as a filing cabinet where the files have been tipped onto the floor and then filed away in the wrong places. I had so much to learn, so many skills I had forgotten, so many words I didn’t recognise anymore.”
Adapting to life after a brain injury wasn’t easy for Jean. Years of her memories were gone and she had no sense of taste or smell. She also used opposites when speaking: ‘father’ instead of ‘mother’, ‘up’ for ‘down’, and ‘full’ for ‘empty’. It was a confusing, frustrating, and exhausting period in her life.
But after a few years of support, first from her parents, and later from the support workers in our specialist housing scheme, Jean rediscovered how she wanted to live, and achieved her preferred lifestyle. By the time she moved into her own bungalow, she was an excellent budgeter, could travel on the bus independently, do all her own shopping, and she also had a job.
There are around 1.4m other people living in the UK with brain injuries (2019), all with their own complex emotional, psychological, cognitive and physical issues to work through.
And this figure is on the rise. Hospital admissions have increased year-on-year since 2001, and it was estimated in 2019 that someone was acquiring a new brain injury every three minutes.
“Having a brain injury doubles a person’s risk of developing mental ill health and increases the risk of committing a crime by up to 50%”
In my own career, I’ve certainly seen an increase in referrals, and a marked change in the causes of injury. 19 years ago, most of our customers were men, who acquired brain injuries through impact accidents. Now, increasingly, we’re supporting people with more complex needs, such as mental ill health, drug abuse, or experience of strokes.
Although this may seem like a negative trend, it is the result of more people being saved in hospital after having an overdose or experiencing a stroke. It is testament to the incredible healthcare advances in recent years.
So, what can we do to deliver effective support for people who have had brain injuries, whilst meeting increased demand and preventing unsustainable costs?
We need to invest in those services which are effective. Supported housing is one of the obvious solutions as, done well, it improves people’s health, leads to significant cost savings and reduces strain on other health services.
Supported housing can give people with acquired brain injuries the right level of individualised support to get them back on their feet, and the ability to live independently again.
Each of our schemes has a garden, communal lounge and easy access to the shops. They also have on-site offices, so that our team can be close at hand if needed. This gives our customers the stability and security to transition from a hospital or care environment into more independent living.
We also provide one-to-one support that’s tailored to their individual goals and circumstances. Some people want help with improving their social skills and understanding finances, or managing their health, improving coping mechanisms and exploring support networks.
Lawrence tripped over a fence and hit his head while on a night out with friends. He spent the next six years in hospital and rehabilitation, before moving into one of our supported housing schemes. Part of his support plan – to help him achieve independence – involved getting work experience in the community, so we helped him apply for a job at Oxfam.
“Voluntary work really helped in my recovery”, he said. “I feel I am a new man and I have a purpose in life.”
Now, nearly seven years on, Lawrence has moved into a more independent, permanent home, and he still works four days a week in Oxfam.
Floating support, also known as community outreach, is another solution to give people the right support. By providing one-to-one tailored support, often with the assistance of peer support workers with lived experience, it can help people work through personal challenges, improve their wellbeing and maintain their tenancy. Supported by local authorities, we can offer this service in areas and have seen great results.
Helping people recover from acquired brain injuries does more than give them a better quality of life. According to the Centre for Mental Health, having a brain injury doubles a person’s risk of developing mental ill health and increases the risk of committing a crime by up to 50% (2016).
So, ensuring they have the right support prevents them from returning to hospital and reduces pressure on the NHS. It reduces the risk of antisocial behaviour and limits involvement of criminal justice agencies.
With the right level of support, and in a suitable environment, people can reclaim control over their lives and flourish, and we can also cut costs to the NHS and local authorities at the same time.
We need the government to fund the most effective services: supported housing and floating support, giving people with acquired brain injuries the chance to live independently again.
Image: Steve Locke, head of service for Mental Health, Peabody
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