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Brain injury recovery: how far will you recover?

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Brain injury recovery: how far will you recover?

Predictions of 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 is. 

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, such as:

  • 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 finishes
  • the support received from friends, family and employer. 


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 afterwards. 


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 or The work was funded by Grant No. H133B03117 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation.


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