A traumatic brain injury can be extremely serious. It may wreak permanent havoc on the victim’s mind and/or body. From memory loss to physical incapacities, a brain injury could result in many long-lasting symptoms for the patient. The brain injury recovery journey will look different for each person. Since no two brains are exactly alike, neither are any two brain injuries. Many factors could impact a patient’s recovery timeline, as well as the ability to recover at all.
Minor vs. Severe Brain Injuries
Many physicians say no traumatic brain injury is minor. Even a minor concussion could have lasting ramifications for the victim. However, the milder the brain injury, the better the odds are of making a full recovery. A minor brain injury typically will not cause permanent brain cell death, but rather only cell damage. The brain may be able to heal from minor cell damage and regain its pre-accident condition. In other cases, however, the brain cells may never recuperate and the victim could experience a lifetime of related symptoms.
Although each case is unique, many patients with severe brain injuries do not fully recover. They may make progress with treatments – especially in the first six months – but then recovery can taper out or move more slowly. A severe traumatic brain injury could cause permanent symptoms such as vertigo, memory loss, trouble forming thoughts and motor function disability. Many patients, however, find ways to live with the lasting symptoms of their brain injuries to minimize the impact the injuries have on their lives.
Stages of Recovery
The stages of recovery someone with a serious brain injury can expect could start with a coma. In many cases, physicians may place victims with severe brain injuries in medically induced comas to help the brain heal in the critical days following the injuries. In other cases, the brain injury itself may cause a victim to enter a coma. Patients with minor traumatic brain injuries may experience disorientation, but not enter into full unconsciousness. From the coma stage, a patient may progress to a vegetative state, in which he or she may breathe without a machine and have functioning reflexes.
Next is a state in which the patient is partially conscious. The patient may reach for objects, respond to questions and show emotions. Patients in minimally conscious states can typically talk and eat on their own. After the minimally conscious state, the patient may progress quickly or slowly into a full or partial recovery. Common behaviors during brain injury recovery include mood swings, agitation, confusion, anxiety, restlessness and memory loss. Inconsistent behavior and nonlinear progress are common.
Can the Brain Heal Itself?
The brain is a complex organ. Much remains unknown about how it sustains injury and recovers. Experts believe the brain can heal itself to a certain extent, but in most cases cannot completely heal the effects of a serious injury. However, each case is unique. It can be difficult to predict how a patient will react to a brain injury. The brain’s healing power can depend on many circumstances surrounding the individual case.
- Quality of medical care
- Treatments such as surgeries
- The age of the patient
- The severity of the injury
- The part of the brain damaged
- Quality of rehabilitation
A dedicated and determined patient with a strong support system and proper medical treatment will typically make the best brain injury recovery progress. The greatest amount of improvement occurs in the first six months for most patients. Then, progress may slow but still happen steadily for months or years after the accident. The rate and extent of recovery differ from patient to patient. Doing things to support brain health, such as eating well, exercising and playing brain games could improve the odds of making a full recovery.