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Andy's story

Andy Howland cares for wife Heather who had a brain haemorrhage

For Andy Howland, "carer" is a term that doesn’t quite fit him.

“I’ve never seen myself as a carer,” he says. “I’ve tried to maintain my role as a husband and family man more than a carer.”

But after Andy’s wife Heather suffered a subarachnoid (brain) haemorrhage a few years ago, which resulted in a change to her personality, he has taken on caring responsibilities.

The haemorrhage caused damage to the frontal lobe of Heather’s brain, affecting her ability to control urges, impulses and decision-making capabilities.

This impulsiveness has meant that she can’t be left on her own, as it could put her at risk from her own behaviour.

It has led to some very difficult situations for them both, particularly when it comes to her inappropriate sexual behaviour with others.

“Before, I never strayed, I would never have gone with anyone else,” says Heather.

“Andy was everything to me. But after the brain injury, there were suddenly men everywhere that I fancied and it was really strange because it wasn’t how I used to be. It was quite shocking.”

Andy says Heather’s brain injury affected the "good idea/bad idea" part of her brain. “If she found a guy attractive, she’d just go for it,” he says.

“If she has an urge, she follows it through. She was like a kid in a sweet shop. If she saw something she liked, she’d reach out and grab it.”

Coping techniques

Four years on from her brain injury, the couple have developed techniques to help them cope with Heather’s condition.

In a kind of "verbal braking system", Andy uses certain words or phrases to help prompt Heather into making a better decision, or to halt behaviour she may already be engaged in.

But from being an independent, career-driven woman, who made most of the decisions in the home, Heather says she now feels a bit like a child.

“I have no control at all. It’s very frustrating and I can find it very irritating,” she says. “One of the most annoying phrases they (her family) use is ‘Heather, stop wandering off’.”

Heather’s change in behaviour doesn't just relate to her sexual conduct. Andy has had to change their bank account security to prevent Heather from withdrawing large sums of money and spending it.

“I was urged to take sole responsibility for everything but I fought against that, as I didn’t want to take all decision-making responsibilities away from her. I’ve made a two-to-sign account so Heather can still be involved in the financial decisions.”

Andy, who still works full-time (Heather’s mother cares for her when he is at work), feels under pressure as all household responsibilities have passed to him.

The way the family interacts with each other and with other people has also changed. For the couple’s 10-year-old son, Louie, the change in Heather’s personality hasn’t been quite as difficult to deal with as it has been for Andy.

“Where I was set in my ways, he has grown with her,” he says. “He has learned to use verbal prompts and if he sees her making a rash decision, he’ll say, ‘Mum, I’ve got to get home, Dad is waiting for us’, which sends a message to Heather and to the man she is talking to.”

Family and friends

Andy says some friends and family have found it difficult to come to terms with Heather’s condition.

“Some have fallen by the wayside as they weren’t able to cope with it, but some acquaintances have become closer.

“I have two male friends in particular, and even though Heather has tried it on with each of them, they’ve told her quite clearly that she is overstepping the boundaries of friendship.”

Coping with Heather’s uninhibited condition can make socialising tricky as well.

“Alcohol creates massive problems for us,” says Andy.

“Most of us lose our inhibitions when we have a few drinks, but for someone with a brain injury, it can have five times the effect, but Heather doesn’t see it like that.

“If someone offers her a drink when we’re out, she’ll happily accept it, so I have to watch her and I don’t get a chance to relax.”

Andy says that if someone you love has suffered a brain injury, it’s important to realise that they’re going to change.

“We’ve been together for 18 years now and we’d grown together,” he says.

“But then Heather changed overnight. She changed so fast.

“It takes time. Be flexible because they don’t always see what they’re doing. Their brain machinery just doesn’t work properly.”

Andy says he is now able to separate her behaviour from her, understanding that the things she does are not deliberately mean or malicious, but symptoms of her illness.

While it has been a struggle for them and Heather’s behaviour will always need monitoring, Andy says it’s important to remember the people that you were.

“Live in the here and now, that’s what counts,” he says.

Watch the video below to find out more about Andy and Heather's life together.

Personality change: Heather's story

Heather had a brain haemorrhage in 2005, which led to a personality change. Find out how she and her family cope with the changes.

Media last reviewed: 21/10/2013

Next review due: 21/10/2015

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Amandawakeling said on 10 March 2010

I totally empathise with you both, my son has an acquired brain injury also, its been nearly 10 years since my sons accident.
Iv'e fought very hard to get my son's needs met in all aspects of his life, frankly to the point of exhaustion.
I'd like to add that the very services who were supposed to be of use rather unhelpful, however, I never quit.
During my 10 years of caring we have become rather isolated for lots of reasons, it takes alot of love to do what we do, love to you both.

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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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