How long will it take to recover from a TBI? To answer this question, we created this helpful TBI recovery timeline.
This timeline will give you a good sense of what to expect during your recovery and what steps you will need to take to regain your abilities!
We’ll start at the very beginning.
Acute Care During Your TBI Recovery Timeline
In the early stages of TBI recovery, treatment is mainly focused on keeping the person alive and minimizing secondary injuries.
There are a couple steps doctors will take to accomplish these goals.
Day 1: TBI Patients Are Stabilized
After a TBI, the doctors’ immediate concern will be to stabilize the person by treating the most life-threatening injuries first.
Sometimes surgery is necessary to relieve intracranial pressure and stop brain hemorrhaging.
In severe cases, the patient is sedated and put into a drug-induced coma to prevent agitation and secondary injuries.
Once the person’s injuries have been stabilized, they will be transferred to a specialized trauma care unit.
Month 1: Trauma Care
While in the trauma unit, the person will be monitored constantly for signs of infection or decline.
They are also placed on a ventilator to ensure that enough oxygen is getting to the brain.
If the person is in an induced coma after brain injury, the doctors will slowly begin to decrease sedation and help the patient wake up.
Once the person has woken up, a period of disorientation and confusion, also known as post-traumatic amnesia, usually follows.
During this period, the person’s ability to form new memories and pay attention is severely affected.
They may be uncharacteristically violent or aggressive, and will overreact to stimulation.
This stage is often very distressing for families to witness, but luckily this is only a temporary condition.
In almost every case, the amnesia and confusion wear off after a couple of weeks and the person begins to return to normal.
Eventually, the patient will either be discharged and sent home, or transferred to a Rehabilitative Care Center.
Rehabilitation During Your TBI Recovery Timeline
Months 3-6: The Fastest Recovery Occurs
All of the above usually occurs within the first several weeks after a TBI.
After this, the real work of recovery begins.
During the first few months after a TBI, the brain is in a heightened state of plasticity, which means therapy will have a huge, visible impact!
This explains why the greatest gains in TBI recovery will usually happen within the first 3-6 months of therapy.
After that, plasticity will begin to decrease and recovery will appear to stall. These are called plateaus, and they are very common in the TBI recovery process.
It’s important not to give up therapy when you first encounter a plateau.
As discouraging as it can be to not see the same amount of progress as you did in the beginning of rehab, plateaus are only temporary, and if you persevere you will begin to make improvements again.
6 Months – 2 Years: Speech and Mobility Improve
As you continue with your traumatic brain injury treatment, you will reach certain milestones in your recovery.
- At six months, about 60% of TBI patients are able to start walking after brain injury.
- After one year, your speech and cognitive abilities will have significantly improved. In fact 64% of TBI patients make a good cognitive recovery after 12 months, according to the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Recovery.
- After two years, you will see more improvements in your hands and legs. Recovery may be slow, but people who have suffered hemineglect (problems with awareness of the right or left side) usually begin to have more use of their neglected side at this point.
But what happens after the two-year mark? Does recovery stop? Nope! Not at all!
Other Milestones During TBI Recovery
2 Years and Beyond: Never Give Up Hope!
In the past, it was believed that two years of improvements were all a person could expect to gain after a TBI.
However, recent research is beginning to challenge that idea, and we now know that neuroplasticity can still be activated years, and even decades, after a brain injury.
This means that even if your TBI happened several years ago, you can still continue improving!
The best way to engage neuroplasticity and continue your TBI recovery is through high repetition exercises.
TBI Recovery Timeline: How Long Will It Take to Recover?
What we have written above is only a general TBI recovery timeline. You might make a much faster recovery, especially if you remain dedicated to therapy and exercise.
On the other hand, you might also take a lot longer to recover than our timeline suggests.
If you feel like your recovery is moving too slow and you are not making the gains you want, please do not give up!
Every single TBI is unique, which means every person’s recovery journey will be unique as well.
It might take a long time. But the only way to ensure that you do continue to recovery is to stick with your therapy program.
Even when – in fact, especially when – it might feel useless.
Finally, it doesn’t matter how severe your TBI was, or how long ago it happened, there is always hope for recovery. You just have to be committed to working for it.