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Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery Stages – What to Expect

Doctor goes over x-rays with a patient sitting up in a hospital bed

A traumatic brain injury (also known as a TBI) can cause damage ranging from relatively minor and transient to permanent, life-altering, and even, in severe cases, catastrophic. When another party's negligence caused the injury, they should be held accountable for all the harm. As personal injury lawyers with a decades-long track record of success representing people with brain injuries, we know firsthand that the road to recovery from TBI can be long and expensive.

We want you to know that those who sustain a brain injury due to another’s wrongdoing are not alone. The award-winning traumatic brain injury lawyers at Wisner Baum have earned significant case results for brain injury victims in lawsuits against negligent motorists, trucking companies, airlines, and others for the compensation they needed to pay for medical expenses, lost wages, long-term care, and the pain and suffering such injuries cause.

As you will see below, the road to recovery can be long, so it is advisable that anyone who suffers at the hands of another’s wrongdoing seek out legal representation to fight for their interests.

If you’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury through no fault of your own, our team may be able to help you recover the compensation you deserve for your losses.

Common Causes of Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injuries can occur in a number of ways, although some of the most common reasons these types of injuries occur include:

Important TBI Terms to Know

Before we discuss TBI recovery, here are some important terms that you may hear in the immediate aftermath of a mild to severe brain injury:

Coma: This means you are unconscious; your eyes are continuously closed, you do not respond to visual or auditory stimuli, and you cannot communicate or express emotional responses.

Concussion: A brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or a violent shaking of the head and body. A concussion, which can occur with or without the injured person losing consciousness, can lead to temporary cognitive symptoms, including headache, confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, ringing in the ears, sleepiness, and excessive fatigue.

Contusion: Often accompanying a concussion, a contusion is essentially a brain bruise, which means it is a mild form of bleeding. A contusion that does not heal on its own can turn into a hematoma and require surgery.

Coup/Contrecoup brain injury: A coup brain injury happens on the brain directly under the point of impact. A contrecoup brain injury happens opposite to the actual site of the point of impact.

Focal brain injury: A localized brain injury that only affects a specific part of the brain. While these injuries tend to cause less severe damage than other types of TBI, they can still be life-threatening if they are not treated promptly.

Hematoma: Collection of blood outside of blood vessels. Large hematomas in the brain can lead to serious injury and perhaps death if left untreated. Different types of hematomas include:

  • Epidural hematoma: Blood collection between the skull and the brain.
  • Intracerebral hematoma: Collection of blood within the brain itself.
  • Subdural hematoma: Blood collection under the thin layer of protection surrounding the brain.

Hemorrhage: Uncontrolled bleeding that occurs on the surface of the brain or within the brain tissue. The types of hemorrhages include subarachnoid hemorrhages, which occur in the space surrounding the brain, and intracerebral hemorrhages, which occur in the cerebral matter.

Minimally Conscious State: In a minimally conscious state, you are partly conscious; you might be able to distinguish items one from another and identify where auditory and visual stimuli come from. You may even be able to request certain objects. Similarly, you may have the ability to reply to commands, produce words, or express emotions, although the responses are typically inconsistent. When you correctly respond to basic questions or display that you can utilize two separate objects accurately, your condition will be considered “emerged” from the minimally conscious state.

Vegetative State: A vegetative state is also referred to as Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome. In such a state, you can likely breathe on your own, your eyes may be open, you experience sleep-wake cycles, and your reflexes are properly functioning. For instance, you may get startled as a result of noise and visual stimulation, and you might be able to make some movements, although they may not be purposeful.

Mild TBI Recovery

Most TBIs are diagnosed as minor or mild, meaning the injured person never lost consciousness or was unconscious for less than 30 minutes. Some of the most common mild TBI symptoms include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Memory problems
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sensitivity to bright light

The question most people suffering from a mild TBI want answered: how long am I going to feel like this? Most mild TBI patients exhibit symptoms within a week to a month after an accident. These symptoms are normal in the recovery process; they do not necessarily signal permanent damage or medical complications. Most mild TBI patients recover completely in a week to three months from their symptoms. Patients who are over the age of 40 may take longer to recover.

While most mild TBI symptoms often disappear without any special treatment, everyone recovers differently. If you feel like you are not getting any better within weeks of leaving the hospital, consult with your doctor and consider slowing down to let your brain heal. Some patients push themselves to hard after a TBI and do not get the rest they need to fully heal. “Toughing it out” may make your symptoms even worse. Studies show that a week of relaxing at home then gradually ramping up their activities after leaving the hospital is best for most patients.

Brain Injury and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder. The associated stress can cause physical damage. TBI is a neurological disorder caused by trauma to the brain. A lot of patients who suffer a TBI also develop post-traumatic stress disorder because the nature of an accident that brings on a brain injury is often traumatic.

When TBI and PTSD coexist, it is often difficult for patients and their doctors to understand exactly what is going on because changes in cognition, memory, concentration, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue are common with both diagnoses.

Some symptoms of PTSD that patients should watch out for:

  • Unwanted and repeated memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance of environments that remind the patient of the traumatic event.
  • Detachment from people, including friends and family.
  • Shame about what happened and was done.
  • Survivor guilt.
  • Hypervigilance or constant alertness for threats.

Moderate to Severe Brain Injury Recovery – The Beginning Stages

In the immediate weeks, following a moderate to severe brain injury, the function of healthy brain tissue is impacted by swelling, bleeding, or changes in the brain chemistry. It is possible that the injured person’s eyes will remain closed for some time and may not show signs of alertness.

However, as the swelling subsides, blood flow and brain chemistry will improve. After some time passes, the injured person’s eyes could start to open. Some may start to experience sleep-wake cycles, be able to follow commands, reply to family members, and regain speech.

Keep in mind that people may experience a period of confusion and disorientation after suffering a moderate to severe TBI. While this is sometimes referred to as post-traumatic amnesia, a more precise phrase is a confusional state.

It is normal for some patients to have a hard time focusing and remembering things after enduring a moderate to severe brain injury. They may become easily agitated, upset, nervous, restless, or frustrated. Family members might notice that the injured person’s sleeping patterns are disrupted, that they react disproportionately to stimulation, particularly sounds. For some, it may not be possible to decipher what is real versus what is not.

TBI patients may also experience inconsistent behavior where some days are worse than others. This part of the recovery process could last for several days or weeks. Do not be alarmed if you experience extreme ups and downs, as this is normal for many patients.

The beginning stages of TBI recovery can be incredibly difficult. It is important to remember that physical function can begin to increase significantly during the later stages of recovery. In most cases, a person’s ability to respond will improve with time.

How Long Moderate to Severe Brain Injury Recovery Takes

The most rapid improvement for TBI patients will likely occur within the first six months after the injury. Throughout this period, the injured person should start to see cognitive and mobility improvements. As more time passes, the rapidness of recovery may start to slow and be less obvious. This can be frustrating for some, especially because there are no good answers for why certain people see improvements in their recovery while others do not. While scientists who study TBI recovery say they make new advancements every year, there is still much we do not know.

Long-Term Moderate to Severe TBI Outlook

Anyone who suffers a TBI will have questions about their long-term outlook. How will the injury affect brain function in the coming years? What will their future look like? Unfortunately, when a person first starts to see improvements, it is difficult for physicians to predict the long-term outlook. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Science has only begun to understand the possible long-term effects of TBI. This is an area of TBI recovery that is being studied.
  2. Brain scans and other testing do not always show the full extent of a person’s injury, which makes the long-term effects difficult to predict.
  3. There are many different types of brain injury, and many different related problems (like brain swelling, for example). The extent of these differences from person to person make it hard to predict long-term effects.
  4. Age at the time of the TBI as well as pre-injury health and abilities also affect recovery.
  5. The severity of the TBI, whether it is mild, moderate, or severe, together with the region or regions of the brain which suffered the trauma all contribute to the difficulty of prediction.

One thing that we do know is that the more severe the brain injury, the less likely it is that the person will fully recover. The amount of time that a brain injured person remains unconscious and the amount of time they remain in the confusional state after they regain consciousness may help to predict how well and how quickly a person will recover, though this is not always the case.

Recovery Years After Moderate to Severe Brain Injury

Data from the TBI Model System program, which analyzed patients two years removed from moderate to severe brain injury, provides some useful information about recovery years after:

  • Roughly 30% of the injured need some amount of assistance from another person. This assistance may be in daytime hours, at nighttime, or both. Over time, most are able to move around again without help and take care of themselves, including bathing and dressing.
  • Trouble thinking is a common issue for patients, including how quickly a person can think. Others report problems forming new memories. The severity of both varies.
  • Roughly 25% of people report major depression. In some cases, the depression is directly caused by the brain injury. People also deal with major trauma-related changes in their lives, such as changes in their employment, their ability to drive their own vehicles, and their living circumstances.
  • Just over 90% of people live in a private home. Of those who were living alone when they sustained the brain injury, nearly half go back to living alone.
  • Roughly 50% of people report that they are able to drive again, but they may change how often they drive, when they drive, or the routes they are willing to take.
  • About 30% of people are employed but it may not be the same job they had prior to their brain injury. Many seek help from vocational rehabilitation counselors to go back to work.

This information is not intended to discourage someone with moderate to severe TBI or their family members; it is simply to raise awareness that the recovery process from moderate-severe TBI can be a long road for some people. Unfortunately, there may be consequences from the TBI that may require significant adjustments for the person with the injury and their family.

A Brain Injury Lawyer Can Help You

A skilled brain injury lawyer can help you recover the compensation you deserve after suffering a traumatic brain injury due to the negligent actions of another. Many people who suffer moderate to severe TBI are looking at a lengthy and expensive recovery process. You and your family should not have to suffer the financial burdens that come with long-term care, rehabilitation, and other expenses.

Our team here at Wisner Baum has a proven track record and knows how to prove liability of the defendant and the extent of your injury in court to maximize the amount of compensation you can recover. Across all areas of practice, our attorneys have won more than $4 billion in verdicts and settlements for clients.

We have helped many others in similar situations, and we want to do the same for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our experienced team right away with any questions you may have about our firm or the legal process. We are ready and willing to help you now.

Contact our office by calling (855) 948-5098 or submitting an online contact form today to schedule your free consultation with one of our skilled catastrophic injury attorneys.



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