Brain Injury Recovery – A Work in Process
As Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords makes progress that seems to bode well for her recovery, her upturn has given the public a glimpse into the complex world of brain injury and healing.
The brain is an astonishingly intricate and malleable mass of tissue that continues to amaze and baffle doctors and scientists with its flexibile adaptability.
This organ consists of about 100 billion densely packed nerve cells, each of which is connected to 1,000 or so other nerve cells, called neurons. Those connections form circuits that are the foundation of the brain’s activity, and a traumatic injury damages neuron connections – disrupting function. Depending on what circuits have been affected, victims may have difficulty reasoning, finding words, remembering things, recognizing faces, understanding what’s said to them, or they could have problems walking, reaching, getting dressed or feeding themselves.
It’s an open book that scientists are still unraveling, but one thing that’s clear is that the brain has the astounding ability to rewire itself, bypassing damaged circuits and strengthening existing connections. Guided by doctors and therapists, patients undergo neurological rehabilitation where they learn compensation strategies to reclaim their cognitive abilities. The road to recovery is a long haul and most people with such injuries have some level of impairment for the rest of their lives. However the most dramatic recovery usually takes place within the first year, with approximately a third of patients who survive severe injuries showing improvement by the end of that time.
As Gabby Giffords regains her voice, we wish her well and a complete recovery.