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How Long Does It Take To Recover From A Traumatic Brain Injury?

A bicycle crash causing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can happen in a matter of seconds, but the recovery process can take years — up to at least seven in some instances, scientists say in new research published earlier this year. 

Neuro researcher Benjamin Brett, PhD, an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin who led the study published in the journal Neurology in June, says TBIs should be considered more of a “chronic condition,” as recovery can last years and patients may have several high and low points throughout that duration. 

The team of Wisconsin researchers followed and performed multiple assessments on a cohort of study participants for one year after being diagnosed with a TBI and another cohort two to seven years after the diagnosis. They found that even after one year – a common recovery benchmark for TBI patients – the brain is still undergoing change related to the brain injury.

“Our results dispute the notion that TBI is a discrete, isolated medical event with a finite, static functional outcome following a relatively short period of upward recovery (typically up to one year),” he told Medscape Medical News of the study. 

This means that it may be necessary for health care professionals to monitor patients well after an accident. TBIs are a common injury cyclists face in crashes, even when they wear a helmet, and not always accurately diagnosed. TBIs can even be difficult for some health care professionals to identify altogether because the injury can display a range of symptoms, including:

  • Headache
  • Loss of vision 
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensory problems, such as blurred vision or ringing in the ears 
  • Mood swings
  • Memory problems 
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dizziness 
  • Confusion 

TBIs are often considered “minor” when the person doesn’t lose consciousness, but that’s not always the case. In fact, researchers at the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute point out that a variety of organizations, from the CDC to the World Health Organization to the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine all have differing definitions for mild TBIs. 

“The lack of consensus in terminology complicates matters further, with… research literature using terms like concussion, mild head trauma, and mild head injury interchangeably,” the institute researchers say.

A lacking definition and emerging research about rehabilitation means that recovery can be much murkier than some patients of bicycle accidents may be led to believe by an insurance company. Getting the proper compensation for care that can possibly last years is crucial. Bay Area Bicycle Law attorneys often see cases in which a client with a TBI shows symptoms for months, even years, after the accident

This is why compensation that allows having access to a properly trained healthcare professional is so important. 

The years that follow an accident

Brett and his research team in Wisconsin followed a total of 900 TBI patients, most cases were considered “mild” (which the researchers defined as patients with concussions), while about 200 others endured more severe cases.  

Over the course of the study they found that 21% of people with mild TBIs and 26% with moderate to severe TBIs experienced a decline in overall test scores compared to the 15% decline of people who had no head injury at all. Researchers noted that most of the decline was in the ability to function during daily activities. 

The researchers also noted that about 22% of patients with mild TBIs and 36% with moderate to severe TBIs showed improvement over time. It’s not clear what factors may have contributed to a person’s decline or improvement. 

Because a person with a TBI might have a long recovery period, the researchers say “continued monitoring, rehabilitation, and support is required to optimize long-term independence and quality of life.”

It’s difficult to say how much time is required to fully recover from a TBI, because there are many variables at play. The National Institute of Health reports that researchers are continuing to learn more about brain injuries, including exploring neuroplasticity and how the brain repairs itself, finding better ways to diagnose a TBI, and the lasting effects of a head injury. 

“Despite recent progress in understanding what happens in the brain following TBI, more than 30 large clinical trials have failed to identify specific treatments that make a dependable and measurable difference in people with TBI,” the institute says. 

To talk to a Bay Area Bicycle Law attorney about your TBI case, call (415) 466-8717 today.