Everybody knows that the brain is an integral part of the human body. It is the control center for everything that a person does and can do, from critical functions like breathing, pumping the heart, and moving to thinking, emotions, and decision-making. If it happens in the human body, the brain plays a role.
It is no surprise then that damage to this vital organ can be critical, either costing a person their life or severely altering the way they operate in the world.
Once someone suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), they will surely have a long road to recovery. This article covers the early stages of recovery, the length of the recovery process, and the long-term results. Of course, all brain injuries will differ depending severity and all people will be affected differently, but this information may be helpful in understanding what you or a family member may be going through.
Right Brain, Left Brain
The human brain is divided into two halves, called hemispheres. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side. This means that if a person suffers damage to the right side of their brain, they will be affected on the left side of their body; and vice-versa.
Although it is not true for every person all the time, generally speaking, the right-brain controls spatial abilities, intuitive functions, and the putting together of visual information. These functions all play a part in taking in information and then using it to make sense of what we see. For example, the right side of the brain is used to interpret music and visual arts in order to gain some greater understanding from it. It is also used for things like facial recognition and recalling visual and auditory memories.
The left hemisphere is responsible for language and logical functioning, like reading, writing, listening, speaking, and mathematical computations. The left-brain is also responsible for memories involving words and facts. For example, if you need to recall something that you read, your left-brain will be in charge.
This information is pertinent to head injuries in that depending on the side of the brain that is damaged, different functions and cognitive abilities may be affected. Whether a person loses their ability to move their limbs, complete simple math, or even speak, is all dependent on which side is injured and the severity.
Physical Effects of TBI
Most people who suffer a TBI do not suffer major physical disabilities. Those who do experience some symptoms of physical impairment can expect to regain this control within a few months to one year.
Patients who suffer multiple concussions or are suffering from second impact syndrome may experience physical effects in the form of trouble with balance and coordination. Likewise, those who suffer mild TBIs may experience fatigue and weakness for a short period of time. If they have suffered multiple TBIs, these symptoms may be long lasting or permanent.
Brain injury can also make some people prone to epileptic seizures. This condition, in itself, can be quite dangerous and cause for concern. Doctors are often wary of this symptom and prescribe medications to protect against it.
Cognitive impairment is a common problem for those who suffer from brain injuries. Individuals who suffer TBIs ranging from mild to severe may experience problems with cognitive abilities, such as concentrating, paying attention, and remembering new information. They may find that they have a lessened or slowed ability to speak, problem solve and think.
Those suffering from the cognitive effects of a TBI may also have problems with:
Emotional/Behavioral Effects of TBI
For those who suffer injuries to the right side of their brain, emotional and behavioral issues may present as symptoms. This is also dependent on varying factors and the areas damaged since the brain is much more complicated than the left-or-right system. The human brain is made up of different parts, or lobes, and damage to these areas can cause different results. For example, the frontal lobe helps to regulate personality and self-control. Damage to this area may cause, changes in personality or problems controlling one’s self. This could come in the form of someone’s personality going from excitable and outgoing to acting more melancholic or indifferent. Likewise, a mild tempered person may become easily angered and excited after a TBI to the frontal lobe.
Damage to any part of the brain that affects emotional behavior may show up as:
One of the most common emotional/behavioral symptoms that patients or loved one’s report is trouble regulating emotions, or mood swings. After suffering a TBI, a person may feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster, constantly moving from bouts of happiness to anger to depression to apathy. Other people may find themselves “expressing” emotions that they are not feeling, like crying when they are not really all that sad or laughing when nothing is funny. This is a sign that the brain is having trouble interpreting the emotions the person is feeling and exhibiting an appropriate response.
Stages of Severe TBI
After a severe brain injury, swelling and bleeding often lead to a limited cognitive state while the brain is repaired. This is known as a coma. There are also terms for the state patients are in as they come out of comas.
Patients who are in a coma are unconscious and thus are unable to respond to stimuli around them. They also do not move through normal wake-sleep cycles. As a patient moves out of a coma, they enter what is known as a vegetative state. During this state, the patient has sleep-wake cycles and can make minor responses to stimulation. Finally, as a patient’s swelling and bleeding decrease and the regain more and more consciousness, they enter what is known as a minimally conscious state. Patients in this stage are mostly conscious, respond to and are aware of stimulation, and may be able to respond to commands, show emotions, and communicate in some way.
As a patient recovers from a TBI, their progress is not always linear or consistent, like it would be with a healing wound. This is because of the complex nature of the brain and its chemistry. A patient who can blink one day may not be able to for a few days afterward. Likewise, a patient may go in and out of consciousness as their brain heals. This stage of recovery may last from a few days to a few weeks.
As swelling decreases and blood flow improves, brain function usually improves. Although the progressive, positive signs of recovery may come and go on a day-to-day basis, the overall recovery is forward moving. For patients who have not suffered permanent damage in any area of the brain, one can expect that all function will return to normal eventually.
Length of Recovery from TBI
Brain injuries often heal very quickly at first with lots of improvements before the progression eventually slows. The fastest improvement usually happens within the first six months. The patient will then continually improve over the next 2 years after their injury. It is at this point that improvements often slow down substantially. This is because the severe symptoms of the injury (like swelling and bleeding) have completely recessed, but the damages that were caused to the nerves are still present. Time and practice are needed to heal the remaining symptoms.
Truly understanding the long-term impacts of a TBI is not yet possible in the medical field. Healthcare professionals do know that the more severe the injury the less likely the patient is to fully recover. Likewise, the length of time a person remains in a coma is a good predictor of recovery. But in general, a doctor cannot say whether one patient or another will experience any specifics symptoms of the long term. Everyone is different.
What We Do Know
Based on information from the TBI Model System, patients who suffered from a moderate to severe TBI experienced the following two years after their injury:
Most people continue to show an increase in ability.
34% of people required some type of supervision at some point in 24 hours.
93% of people are living in a private residence, and not in an assisted facility.
Dolman Law Group
If your loved one has suffered a brain injury due to someone else’s negligence, it’s important to speak to an experienced Florida brain injury attorney as soon as possible. At the Dolman Law Group, our team of highly skilled brain injury lawyers is ready to help obtain you the recovery you deserve for your injuries and related losses. Please call our office at 727-451-6900 or contact us by email for a free consultation.