A Brain Injury Doesn’t Have to Be the End

Moving Forward from a Brain Injury

Following an accident, the words “brain injury” are among the scariest a patient’s family can hear. Many assume that there will be no recovery, or, if there is, that their loved one will bear no semblance to the person they once knew. Indeed, for the first few weeks or even months, it’s difficult to know what the eventual outcome will be. The person could be unconscious, in a coma, or in a vegetative state. Even once a patient regains consciousness, even basic responsiveness to stimuli may be slow to return, and unpredictable.

Despite these potential dire signs, there is no need to despair. Many people who suffer brain injuries do make extraordinary recoveries, and go on to live long and full lives. Take Matthew Evans, for example. At the age of eight, he fell off a cliff and suffered a stroke, which caused severe brain damage. Initially, doctors did not expect Evans to be able to continue attending school. In spring of 2015, however, he walked across the stage and earned his Bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University. Though he is still partially paralyzed, he was able to take coursework alongside his peers, and is proud to have overcome these challenges to earn his diploma.

Brain Injury Recoveries: Factors in a Positive Outcome

Brain injuries are complex conditions, and their treatments are long and complex, too. There are many factors that affect outcome. Though the rate of improvement in brain function is often fastest during the first six months, people experience widely varying rates of improvement. CT scans or MRI’s are not necessarily predictive of long-range outcomes, even when the first test results are alarming. A patient who shows severe bleeding in the brain after an accident may make a full recovery (of course, the inverse is true—promising early scans can be misleading as well).

The work continues long after leaving the hospital: for years, patients must work on cognitive exercises and organization. Intelligence and emotional response to the process varies. People with high IQ’s often recover faster, although sometimes their awareness of the situation, and hence frustration, can be a significant emotional stumbling block. It’s very important to get cognitive treatment and therapy as early as possible; though the brain can heal by itself, early treatment tends to improve neurological outcomes. Most people’s lives are forever changed by a brain injury, and few cognitively feel exactly as they did prior to the injury. But though their lives will be different, they can be just as fulfilling, and incredible progress is possible.

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