Thursday 18 April 2019
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How does brain injury rehabilitation work and why is it effective?

The process of recovering from a brain injury is entirely dependent on the exact nature of the injury. This makes it very hard to predict at the outset exactly what will be required during the rehabilitation process, the level of recovery that is likely to be achieved and how long this might take.

That said, with the right support from medical staff, care workers, family and friends, significant improvement can usually be seen in a patient’s condition.

What are the goals of brain injury rehabilitation?

The goals of brain injury rehabilitation will depend on the specific patient and the exact nature and severity of their injury. The extent to which a patient will recover from a traumatic brain injury is often not immediately clear – it can take around six months for doctors to be able to make realistic predictions about the ultimate outcome.

In some cases, patients may be able to make a full recovery, while for others the goal will be to maximise improvements in their mental and motor capacity, allowing them to care for themselves as much as possible.

Stages in brain injury rehabilitation

There are various steps in the process of recovering from a traumatic brain injury. While the timeline and exact treatments involved will vary, the following gives a sense of roughly what to expect.

0-2 months

Immediately after a brain injury occurs, a patient may need neurosurgery for a number of reasons, including repairing damage, removing blood clots and relieving build up of blood and other fluids in the brain. Some patients will only need a single surgery, while others may need several procedures.

After neurosurgery, the patient will generally be moved to an intensive care unit (ICU) or specialist neurological high dependency unit (HDU). There they will be given 24-hour monitoring by trained specialists.

Patients who are not in an emergency state will likely spend some time in a general ward where their condition can be carefully monitored and they can be given any necessary support with eating and general self-care.

Some amount of rehabilitation will likely begin in this period as early intervention can have a major impact on the long-term outcome. This will normally be focused around basic tasks such as sitting up in bed, controlling, developing and strengthening movement, and working on the patient’s posture, balance and special awareness.

2-6 months

After the first couple of months, most patients will be in a sufficiently stable state to move out of hospital and be treated in a specialist rehabilitation centre or as an outpatient while living at home. Some patients will reach this stage sooner, while others will take longer – again, it all depends on the severity of their condition.

Before the patient is discharged from hospital they will be assessed to see what remaining issues they have and what sort of continuing rehabilitation needs they will have. At this stage, the patient will normally be referred to specific rehabilitation services for their further care.

6-12 months

After 6 months, the patient’s prospects for recovery will normally be much clearer. This should allow doctors and other support workers to give a more realistic prognosis for what level of recovery the patient can expect, what further rehabilitation (if any) they will need and how long this is likely to take.

1-2 years

Between 1 and 2 years, many patients will continue to make significant improvement, so may continue to need rehabilitation services. By this stage, most patients will be being treated as outpatients while living in their own home or a supported living facility.

2 years+

Generally patients will achieve the most significant recovery in the first 2 years after their injury. However, many patients continue to see improvements for years afterwards, so some rehabilitation exercises may still be recommended. For patients who need on-going care and support long-term, this will normally have been arranged by this point, allowing them to adapt to their new routine.

Why brain injury rehabilitation works

While most other cells in the body can be replaced if damaged or destroyed, this is not the case for brain cells. This means when your brain is injured, it will no longer be able to work in exactly the same way it did before.

However, the brain is flexible and capable of reorganising itself to compensate for damage. This is known as “neuroplasticity” and involves other areas of the brain taking over the activities formerly performed by the damaged areas.

During recovery, new nerve pathways can be established using undamaged brain cells. Rehabilitation can help this process to happen faster and more effectively by engaging in carefully planned activities that encourage the brain to develop these alternative ways of working. This can minimise the long-term impact of a brain injury and significantly speed up recovery times.

Funding brain injury rehabilitation

Brain injury rehabilitation services are run by both the NHS and private firms across the UK. Many of these can be accessed for free with an NHS referral, including those that are privately run. However, places are limited and paying for private treatment can make it easier to access services quickly or in a more convenient location, both of which can make a difference to the comfort and quality of recovery of the patient.

Unfortunately, funding private rehabilitation services can be very expensive, putting this option out of the reach of most ordinary people. This is one of the main reasons many people pursue compensation for their brain injury, as this is often their only option for funding private rehabilitation services.

Compensation can also help to pay for the on-going care and support that many brain injury sufferers need, in some cases for the rest of their life.

If you are considering making a compensation claim to help fund rehabilitation or continuing care and support, it is a good idea to contact a specialist brain injury solicitor. They will have the experience and expertise to advise you on the best course of action to ensure you get the compensation you deserve.

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