As your teen starts to recover from meningitis, it's fair to wonder what comes next. The challenge is that there's no easy formula to tell you how it'll go. Some teens have no issues and make a quick recovery. They're back in the swing of things after just a few weeks. For others, it could take months.
Complicating things is that meningitis can sometimes cause aftereffects that range from dizziness to seizures. Most people don't get them, but you, your teen, and your doctor will need to keep an eye out for them.
That's a lot of uncertainty for both you and your child. While there's no way to predict exactly how it'll play out, it's useful to know the kinds of things to watch for and how you can help along the way.
Most teens get through meningitis without any aftereffects, but some will have them. And because meningitis affects the brain, they can be serious. Sometimes, the symptoms are temporary, fading after a few weeks or months. In other cases, they present lifelong challenges.
Some things that you might notice in your teen:
- Clumsiness, dizziness, and balance issues
- Hearing problems
- Learning difficulties
- Problems speaking
- Trouble with focus and memory
- Vision problems
Some teens may also have mental health issues, such as:
- Changes in behavior
- A hard time expressing themselves
- Lack of confidence
Where to Start
Remind yourself and your teen that recovery takes time. There will be good days and challenging days.
Meningitis takes a toll on the body. Even in the best case, there's no getting around the fact that your teen simply needs time to heal. So one of the best things you can offer him is your patience and understanding.
Some aftereffects can be tricky to notice. Headaches, tiredness, moodiness, and memory problems are easy to write off in the moment. Who doesn't get headaches or forget things from time to time? It can be hard to tell what's an aftereffect and what's normal.
Part of your job is to be another set of eyes and ears. As any parent knows, it's a fine line when it comes to paying close attention to your teen. If you watch like a hawk, it'll drive you both a little nuts. And, especially on the hard days, it's easy to convince yourself the sickness is coming back. So check in with your doctor if you're concerned. Otherwise, allow your teen time and space to heal.
Stay on Top of Follow-Up Care
After the hospital stay, you and your child may feel anxious about going home without the regular support of doctors and nurses. Before you leave the hospital, get the contact info you need and make a plan with the doctor for follow-up care. Then, make sure your teen keeps those appointments.
Your teen is likely to have a:
- Hearing test before leaving the hospital or within 4 weeks
- Follow-up visit in 4-6 weeks to check in and look for aftereffects
Help Others Understand
One thing that can be hard for your teen is that from the outside, everything may look fine, even as he might struggle with tiredness or other problems. Part of your role can be to remind people that he's still recovering and that there's no set timetable.
Support the Return to Work or School
Like anyone else, your teen may be eager to get back to a normal life, which may mean high school, college, or work. It's important to support that desire, but also to remind him to listen to his body. If he returns too early or does too much too fast, it can lead to a slower recovery. Support your teen by going easy. Limit your expectations and help him do the same.
You may also need to talk to your teen's teachers or employer about the realities of meningitis and what's involved with recovery. You can mention that your child may have various challenges, such as problems with tiredness, concentration, memory, or mood. Also explain that he may need a big chunk of time off, as well as time here and there for those tougher days. If needed, you can ask the doctor for a note.
If your teen has learning difficulties after meningitis, you can work with his school to get the right resources in place.
Healing from any serious illness is a mental and emotional journey as much as a physical one. And aftereffects from meningitis can make that even harder. While your patience, love, and support are critical, you may also want to suggest that your teen see a therapist for help working through the stress and emotional challenges of recovery.