The Longevity Project: Road to independence after permanent brain injury paved in support systems
For The Aspen Times
Editor’s note: This is the fourth and last of a weekly series The Longevity Project, a collaboration between The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
Kara Brouhard’s dog, Tucker, instantly greets her guests with a wagging tail when they enter her home, festive Halloween decorations covering the walls of her cozy space in south Glenwood Springs.
“I just took down a lot of the decorations,” said Kara’s mom, Alice Brouhard, who helps her daughter out when she needs it.
The naturally lit home with vaulted ceilings is open but snug and filled with things that make Kara happy, like her guitar and her kitchen where she loves to bake.
Her quiet space to herself is all she ever wanted in life.
After sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a ski accident on Sunlight Mountain when she was a child, Kara Brouhard and her family have been innovative in finding ways to let her live by her own means.
“I don’t want people telling me what to do,” Kara said.
In her home are two of her biggest helpers, her Alexa and her tablet. The tablet is filled with constant alarms that have different songs and pictures, or sound clips of her and her mom’s voices to remind Kara of what to do next.
Kara gets lost in her thoughts and has little comprehension of time, according to her mother. Without having something to remind her where to go and what to do, Kara might just end up sitting on her bed all day thinking to herself.
She’s a busy person and the reminders keep her on track.
After she finished high school, Kara and her mom toured different options for how Kara might choose to live her own life, including a potential group home in Grand Junction. Kara made her mind up then.
“I was not going to live in a group home,” Kara said.
She wanted to make those choices on her own and her parents supported her in that.
At the time, there weren’t any resources to help give her the independence she sought, or at least there weren’t any that Kara’s family were able to find.
So they got creative.
“Technology has been one of the biggest helpers,” Alice said.
She and Kara have become spokespeople for independence for people with disabilities, and Alice has become a strong advocate for tablet technology to help people with cognitive challenges like traumatic brain Injuries.
Alice lives close by, while Kara has a nanny cam, a fall monitor and a caregiver in case of emergencies or anything unpredictable like a seizure.
No one holds her hand, but this technology along with help from her mom support her and keep her safe. She has now been able to live a full and exciting life in her home for the past 15 years thanks to this support.
Supporting instead of enforcing
“There’s persons with all disabilities that need that support or just need the answer to that simple one question to push them in the direction they want to go,” said Drene Stevens, a counselor for the Center for Independence based in Grand Junction.
Stevens also suffers from a traumatic brain injury.
“I myself have epilepsy and its results from viral encephalitis back in 1983,” Stevens said. “The brain swelled up against the skull and there is so much scar tissue leftover that it causes seizures.”
The Center for Independence was created to help connect people with disabilities to resources they need to live independently.
Originally created in 1982 by five women who found themselves newly blind, they started a nonprofit to offer other blind people resources for survival and independence. They expanded their cause to all types of disabilities in 1986 and now cover 12 counties throughout the Western Slope, including Mesa, Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties.
The satellite office in Glenwood Springs covers the three counties that make up the Roaring Fork Valley, while the location in Grand Junction provides a support group.
In Glenwood Springs, Coleen Graves is a disability benefits case manager for the Center for Independence and works specifically with all people with disabilities to provide resources to gain independence.
Resources include everything from working with social workers to helping people get through the grueling process of signing up for Social Security. They are also able to help with job hunting and applications, disability applications, food assistance and housing vouchers.
County Human Services also have people who can help those with disabilities sign up for Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, along with helping people to access the Assistance for the Needy and Disabled program while they wait on Social Security or disability services.
Resources don’t end there.
They also connect people to other community organizations like Catholic Charities USA or The Salvation Army for additional help with rental assistance, utilities and even gas cards for people who can still drive.
When people do have housing but need help in their home, they can assist with in-home services like referrals for medical services, caregivers or homemaker services like grocery shopping, laundry or any other errands.
“We connect them with Northwest (Colorado) Options for long-term care, which is part of the human services group of services, but it’s separate from where you apply for SNAP or Medicaid,” Graves said.
An assessment is done to determine if that person qualifies for at-home services and then there are a couple of different Medicaid waivers that pay for those services so the person doesn’t have to pay out of pocket, she said.
“This will give them the support and services they need in their home rather than having to go to an assisted living or even a nursing facility,” Graves said.
The satellite office in Glenwood Springs communicates well with all of the human service organizations in the valley, getting referrals from many local doctors’ offices, County Human Services and even Catholic Charities.
Alice and Stevens said one big challenge is when families hold out too much hope that their loved one will go “back to normal” without accepting that there will be differences in that person.
Stevens lost her fiance, who wasn’t able to accept she wouldn’t go back to the way she was before her accident. She needed to accept those changes herself to know how to move forward, and that sometimes those loved ones can be more of a hindrance in that recovery when they can’t accept the changes.
Today, both Kara Brouhard and Drene Stevens are able to live their life by their own means because of the acceptance and support they received.
Stevens said that many of the people in her group who have the least success are the ones without a support system of some sort.
Post Independent reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-384-9131.
Brain Health & Injury
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life. This year’s project will focus on the critical and relevant topic of brain health after injury.
Our panelists are experts in treating concussions and TBI. They will share the latest research, treatments, physical therapies and how concussions impact aging. Whether for themselves or someone they know, attendees will learn useful takeaways for optimizing brain health after injury.
WHEN: Nov. 10
WHERE: TACAW, The Arts Campus at Willits Willits
TIME: 5 p.m. Meet and Greet; 5:30-7 Panel Discussion
TICKETS: Can be purchased online at https://events.cmnm.org/e/longevity2022
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.