Can a brain injury get worse over time?
While most brain injury symptoms will improve as time passes, some patients do appear to decline.
In today’s article, we’ll discuss why some brain injuries get worse over time, then show you what proactive steps you can take to keep that from happening to you.
Let’s get started!
Can a Brain Injury Get Worse Over Time?
The short answer is yes. Some brain injuries do get worse over time.
Doctors are not completely sure why some TBI patients experience a decline, but they believe there are two primary causes:
Secondary Brain Injuries
Secondary brain injuries are complications that arise after the initial injury, such as hematomas or infections.
Sometimes these injuries cut off blood circulation to certain portions of the brain, killing neurons.
However, the effects of brain cell death are not always immediate. This could explain why some people with brain injury appear to get worse as time goes by.
In addition, harmful chemical events that take place inside the brain after brain trauma could explain why some people with TBI continue to decline.
For example, brain injury often leads to an excess of neurotransmitters in the brain, which overstimulates brain cells and causes cell death.
Finally, if a person does not receive proper treatment that promotes brain healing, then that would also cause their symptoms to worsen.
Can You Prevent a Brain Injury from Getting Worse Over Time?
While we may not know exactly what causes some TBI patients to decline, we do know that certain approaches encourage recovery.
So rather than focusing on things you can’t control, it’s much more productive if you take a proactive approach to keep your brain as healthy as possible.
This not only prevents your brain injury from getting worse, it will also give your recovery a nice boost!
If you want to make sure your symptoms do not get worse, follow these steps.
1. Participate in Therapy
By far the number one thing you can do to prevent your brain injury from declining is to participate in rehabilitative therapy.
The main therapies you should take part in are physical, speech, and occupational therapy.
- Physical therapy works to rebuild physical strength after TBI. It also increases blood flow to your brain, which will keep your brain injury from getting worse.
- Speech therapy doesn’t only help you learn how to speak. It also works on your mental skills through cognitive rehabilitation exercises. These keep your brain active and prevent decline.
- Occupational therapy helps you relearn daily living skills such as cooking or bathing. They also teach you constructive ways to boost your cognitive function.
The common factor uniting these therapies is that they keep your body and mind active.
Staying active is crucial for maintaining your health, with or without brain injury. Even otherwise healthy people can experience cognitive decline if they don’t exercise!
But when you have a brain injury, your brain function is already compromised. This means even a slight decline will have a much greater impact on you.
So if you want to keep your brain injury from getting worse, stay active every day.
2. Activate Neuroplasticity
Another effective way to prevent decline is to engage your brain’s neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the mechanism your brain uses to form new neural pathways that allow healthy portions of your brain to take over functions from damaged areas.
You can activate neuroplasticity through repetition. This means you’ll need to practice an action a lot if you want to regain the skill.
With enough practice, your brain will rewire itself, and the action will become much easier. The therapies mentioned above will utilize techniques that promote neuroplasticity during their treatments.
3. Stimulate Your Brain
In addition to repetitive exercise, focus on stimulating your brain through puzzles, cognitive exercises, and art and music therapy.
The more you stimulate your brain, the more it produces certain neurotrophic growth factors such as BDNF.
These growth factors aid in the process of neurogenesis, which helps your brain create new nerve cells. That being said, in early recovery, it is also important to give your brain some rest so as not to become over-stimulated.
4. Push Through “Plateaus”
Unfortunately, brain injury recovery is not always a straightforward journey.
There will be setbacks and long stretches of time where you may not see any progress.
It can be very discouraging to experience these “plateaus” during recovery. You might think this means your recovery has peaked and you will not make any more improvements. It might even seem like your brain injury symptoms are getting worse.
Do not give up! Plateaus are frustrating, but they are also temporary.
Eventually, with continued therapy, you will see improvements again.
If the plateau is really discouraging you, one helpful technique is to focus on a new area or activity.
For example, if you’ve been focusing on trying to improve your arm strength, switch to your legs. Or try a new type of therapy, such as recreational therapy
This can give you just the boost of motivation you need to keep up with your exercises and prevent permanent decline.
5. Find a support group
Social isolation is a major problem for brain injury patients and can contribute to mental decline.
That’s why brain injury support groups are so important. They connect you with people you can relate to, which prevents depression and feelings of isolation
Staying connected with others can also motivate you to keep working on your recovery and will prevent decline.
Even if you think support groups aren’t your thing, it’s still worth trying at least once. You might be surprised how much you gain from it.
6. Have fun!
Brain injury rehabilitation doesn’t have to be all work and no play. You also need to give yourself time to relax and have fun.
Besides decreasing stress, having fun helps stimulate your brain and wards off depression and anxiety.
One fun way to keep your body active and your brain stimulated is to participate in recreational therapy activities for traumatic brain injury.
Recreational therapy helps you keep the benefits of physical therapy while also doing meaningful activities you actually enjoy! They also can relieve social isolation by getting you involved with like-minded people.
Again, the more active you are, the less likely it is your symptoms will get worse. So find something you enjoy and go do it!
So Can a Brain Injury Get Worse Over Time? It Depends
Whether a brain injury gets worse over time depends on several factors. Some you can’t control, but some of them you can!
By staying active and following the advice in this article, you not only greatly reduce your risk of decline, you also increase your chances of making a full recovery.
And in our opinion, that’s a win/win.