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Traumatic Brain Injury and the Long Road to Recovery

One of the most serious injuries you can suffer in an automobile accident is a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This typically occurs on impact when your head strikes something in your car (e.g., the steering wheel) shifting your brain with enough force to collide with the inside of your skull. No version of a TBI can be considered “minor” in that even recoverable injuries almost always leave the victim with damage that affects them mentally, physically, and emotionally for some time.

That said, with the proper care and treatment, there is a chance for you to recover to the point of, if not living the exact same life you did prior to the crash, at least experiencing a productive and meaningful life. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on three stages of recovery from TBI: the immediate aftermath, interim phase, and long-term prognosis.

Initial experience of car crash victims with TBI

Most car accident victims who suffer a head injury experience confusion and disorientation in the immediate aftermath of an accident. You might not remember what just happened or personal information like your home address. Time may seem to move at a distorted pace (slower or faster) and you’re likely to experience panic, agitation, and other disturbing emotions. This frightening period may resolve quickly or linger depending on the severity of your injury.

Physically, a TBI can involve one or more of the following:

  • Bleeding on the brain/brain swelling
  • Concussion
  • Altered consciousness (awake but minimally aware)
  • Unconsciousness (temporary or long-term, e.g., coma)
  • Vegetative state (minimally responsive to some stimulation, e.g., loud noises)

Some of these conditions may only last a short time while others can extend indefinitely in the most serious cases. Treatment will require hospitalization, for which the length of time varies based on the symptoms and likelihood of recovery.

During your time in the hospital, you will be treated according to your needs. If you were knocked unconscious even briefly or present in an altered state, the focus will be on making sure you are able to reorient yourself, remember basic facts like your name and age, and otherwise have recovered to the point of normal or near-normal awareness. If you have a concussion, the medical staff will keep you under observation at least overnight to make sure you don’t slip into an unconscious state or display any delayed negative indications. If scans indicate you have a brain bleed or swelling, you might have to undergo surgery to relieve the pressure inside your skull to avoid severe long-term consequences or death. Finally, if you are in a vegetative or comatose state, you will be intubated and have all your needs cared for by staff until you regain full lucidity and control over your bodily functions.

Brain injury treatment and recovery

You should expect a transitional phase between leaving the hospital and returning home. You might be moved into a rehabilitation facility for a time if your TBI requires regular assessment and a level of care beyond what can reasonably be sustained on an outpatient basis. During this time, you will undergo a series of tests and scans, as well as receive daily personal assistance with cleaning, dressing, eating, and any other requirements you cannot satisfy independently.

You will also receive visits from a variety of professionals depending on your specific needs, including one or more of the following therapists:

  • Physical
  • Speech-language
  • Other neurological/sensory
  • Psychological
  • Occupational
  • Vocational

Once your healthcare team determines that you are able to return home, you will likely require ongoing care from these or other recommended therapists on an outpatient basis. They will track your progress based on certain milestones, such as regaining your ability to perform activities of daily life (e.g., grooming, feeding yourself, toileting) independently.

While in a rehab clinic and after you return home, you might continue to experience various emotional and functional issues. For example, TBIs often leave patients with difficulty focusing on work or activities, affect short and/or long-term memory, impede hearing, speech, or visual acuity, interfere with sleep, and cause occasional hallucinations. Additionally, families often report that their loved one’s personality changes and they display unusual behavior like extreme frustration and agitation, nervousness and anxiety, and overreactions to auditory or visual stimuli. An easygoing person before suffering a traumatic brain injury could become prone to outbursts of anger or possibly violent after. These disturbing changes may only last for weeks or months and might not affect your and your family on a daily basis. Sadly, some or all of these personality changes might last long-term or become permanent.

Long-term prognosis for TBI recovery

Typically the interim phase of recovery—during which the fastest rate of improvement occurs—lasts about six months. Beyond that, the rate of improvement usually slows down, and although you might achieve additional milestones, this is when you and your loved ones will see what your life is likely to entail going forward. Reaching as complete a recovery as possible will involve changes, such as adoption of a brain-healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise (within whatever physical limitations you might have), avoiding brain-altering influences like drugs and alcohol, and a healthy diet to support cardiovascular health to maintain strong and steady blood flow to your brain.

If your head injury affects your balance and coordination, assistive devices might need to be added in your home like grab bars in your shower or you could require personal support equipment like a walker. If you experience cognitive or sensory challenges but are able to return to your previous job or find a new one, you may have to request accommodations, such as a captioned telephone.

You should continue with any therapies and treatments recommended by your doctors that might be required on a long-term or lifelong basis. Every patient’s recovery is unique, so you still might achieve significant improvement even after a year or more. That said, according to the TBI Model Systems, two years after a moderate-to-severe TBI some people still require ongoing support and assistance to manage their daily lives. Many continue to struggle to form new memories, think clearly and quickly, hold down a job, drive, and more.

Call a Los Angeles TBI injury lawyer for support

Traumatic brain injuries have the potential to derail your entire life. If you have suffered a serious head injury due to an automobile accident, contact Los Angeles car crash attorney Scott J. Corwin at 800-946-9440 to make sure you can afford all the ongoing care and support you and your family might need.

Man in drivers seat with head neck injury