There are as many different outcomes to brain injury as there are brain injuries. Just like the people they affect, brain injuries are highly individual. However, while a long-term prognosis may take months or even years to determine, doctors can look at several factors—specifically the length of coma and the location and size of the injury—to come up with a hypothetical prognosis.
Length of Coma
One of the first things that the medical team will factor into the prognosis is the length and severity of a coma. That’s because both post-traumatic amnesia (the ability of the patient to remember events prior to and leading up to the accident) and recovery time are, more often than not, linked to the amount of time the patient is unconscious. The longer the recovery period is, and the longer the survivor is plagued with post-traumatic amnesia, the more likely it is that the survivor will struggle with long-term effects.
In most cases, a coma (unconsciousness) that lasts for a few seconds to a few minutes, combined with minor post-traumatic amnesia, will result in a recovery that plateaus in a couple of days or weeks. Longer periods of coma—a coma that last days or weeks—can result in a longer period of post-amnesia and a recovery that plateaus in months or sometimes years.
The Location and Severity of the Injury
The location of the injury will factor into the long-term outcome, as different parts of the brain affect different physical, behavioural, and cognitive processes. For example, a specialist may predict that a survivor with significant damage to the left temporal lobe may have issues associated with language and memory. The severity of the injury may also indicate the severity of the long-term outcome; in other words, severe injuries result in more long-term disabilities, while minor injuries may result in a more positive outcome.
Prognosis and Severity
As a general rule of thumb, individuals with moderate and severe brain injuries tend to have longer recovery periods—and more long-term effects—than individuals with mild injuries. While many doctors are willing to give a somewhat loose prognosis shortly after the injury, it’s important to understand that early predictions are always subject to change. People with moderate to severe injuries have made remarkable recoveries, and have gone on to live lives that are similar to the lives they lived before the accident, while some individuals with seemingly mild injuries struggle with lifelong disabilities. Regardless of the severity of the injury, timely and proper treatment is necessary to improve the prognosis. Patients who rehabilitate with the right therapies and treatments fare significantly better than those who don’t.