Brain injury recovery: how far will you recover?
recovery are difficult in the months following a brain injury, with
the person and their family often frustrated by lack of knowledge
about the future.
In the hospital phase, medical staff will use the depth
and duration of any coma to assess the severity of a brain disorder
such as a traumatic brain injury. Upon emerging from a coma, there
is a period of post-traumatic amnesia and its duration and severity
are also noted to assess how severe the brain injury
However, medical specialists and rehabilitation professionals
are often wary about trying to make predictions of how much
recovery will occur because there are so many factors involved,
- how severe the injury is
- what part of the brain is damaged
- their personality and attitude to rehabilitation
- the amount and quality of rehabilitation
- continuing an unofficial rehab program after the formal one
- the support received from friends, family and
A common prediction over the years has been the brain has a
limited ability to heal itself over roughly a two period - the
fastest recovery occurs in the first six months, and recovery then
gradually tapers off. While this may be the case for many people,
there are also those who find they make no further progress after
one year, while others keep reporting improvement for many years
after the brain injury.
Will I make a full recovery?
Again, any predictions made by health professionals will
probably be heavily qualified. For example, a concussion is
considered to be a very mild form of brain injury and a complete
recovery is normally expected, and yet research increasingly
reveals some people experience lifelong effects
On the other hand, there are also a very small number of cases
where people with moderate to severe brain injuries have made close
to a full recovery. The brain is an extremely complicated organ,
and this combined with so many variables influencing recovery mean
that predictions will always be very difficult.
Can the brain heal itself?
The brain does have a limited ability to heal itself. Recent
research indicates the brain can repair or grow new brain cells to
a very limited extent after a brain injury, but much of the
recovery experienced is due to the brain 'rewiring' itself and
slowly using other pathways to bypass broken connections.
Your role in your recovery
Rehabilitation plays a significant role in helping to establish
these new pathways. Even more importantly, much of rehabilitation
is about learning compensatory strategies - techniques that
compensate for lost abilities such as using reminder notes to
compensate for short-term memory loss.
Often the biggest and most enduring recoveries are made by
people who are positive, determined, continue to apply what they
have learned during rehabilitation, and have very supportive
friends and family.
References and further information
This excerpt from "Picking up the pieces after TBI: a
guide for family members" is reproduced with permission
of Angelle M. Sander, Ph.D., with Baylor College of
Medicine and TIRR Memorial Hermann. This free publication
is available for download from www.tbicommunity.org
or www.brainline.org. The work
was funded by Grant No. H133B03117 from the National Institute
on Disability and Rehabilitation.