The beliefs of some people limit or prevent recovery. This post sets the record straight and removes some of the easily avoidable obstacles to successful recovery. This post reveals the truth about the following four myths:
- Myth #1: You Will be Better Soon
- Myth #2: Full Recovery Occurs Within One Year
- Myth #3: Therapy Must Begin Shortly After Injury
- Myth #4: Recovery Ends When the Plateau Begins
Myth #1: You Will be Better Soon
Recovery from brain injury is not the same as recovery from flu, broken bones, or an organ transplant. At this time, there is no shot that prevents brain injury, there is no cast that repairs brain injury, and a damaged brain cannot be replaced by transplant. Recovery is often a long process that sometimes requires physical, occupational, vision, speech, cognitive, and psychological therapies. Some people have also found healing through religious devotion, yoga, exercise, medication, herbs, food, stories, music, art, animals, oxygen, and hyperbaric chambers. The fact is that recovery from brain injury is rarely quick and may require many years. An expectation of immediate recovery can lead survivors and those who interact with them, to denial, frustration, disappointment, and depression.
Myth #2: Full Recovery Occurs Within One Year
As stated above, recovery is rarely quick and may require many years. There is no reliable proof that recovery ends abruptly one year after injury occurs. In fact, the opposite is true. Many people recover over a period of many years. Recovery depends on the severity and location of injury as well as many other factors; however, a 12-month cut off is not one of the recovery factors. One year after my diagnosis, I was sleeping most of the day, throwing up occasionally, trying to remember words, and communicating in complete but barely intelligible sentences. The majority of my recovery occurred within five or so years of my injury, but I cannot claim that my recovery ended abruptly five years post injury. Today, approximately 10 years after my initial diagnosis, I solve puzzles quickly, read and understand books, watch movies without falling asleep or puking during the movie, exercise, speak in public, teach, mentor, buy groceries, cook, clean, volunteer, and write – none of which were possible within 12 month of my diagnosis. Although the physical damage may heal within 12 months of injury, true recovery is still ongoing.
Myth #3: Therapy Must Begin Shortly After Injury
Therapy might be more effective if it begins shortly after injury, but therapy can still be effective if it begins decades after injury. Many people have experienced significant recovery even though they began therapy years after their injuries. Doctors suggested a brain tumor began damaging my brain decades earlier. I didn’t begin cognitive therapy until almost one year after diagnosis of my brain injury. I certainly participated in a lot of therapy during the first year after surgery, but the therapy focused on standing, sitting, walking, moving, balancing, eating, drinking, seeing, exercising, dressing, brushing my teeth, showering . . . I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Myth #4: Recovery Ends When the Plateau Begins
Some people believe recovery is simply progress to an end point. Others believe recovery is a process of ups and downs to an end point. Neither of the views is a healthy way to think about recovery. Based on personal experience, I know recovery is unlikely to consist of only improvement. I also know imagining an end point can be detrimental to the recovery process. The belief that recovery is not possible beyond a certain point may lead the survivors, therapists, families, and caregivers to falsely conclude the best possible outcome has been attained. Believing this myth to be true is a great disservice to everyone who is affected by the recovery process. The myth prevents further recovery by convincing people that further recovery is impossible.
I experienced several plateaus during the first part of my recovery. I could sit and stand, but I could not walk. A few days later I could walk; some people might have considered it controlled falling rather than walking, but I was making progress. I could read a few words, but I could not understand what I was reading. A few days later, I could read whole sentences rather than just words. Shortly thereafter, I began to understand simple sentences. Plateaus are nothing more than negative thoughts that limit the benefits of recovery.
What statements about recovery do you know to be true? What statements about recovery do you know to be false?
I welcome input from neurologists, psychologists, therapists, survivors, family members, and caregivers who can share myths about neurological tests, diagnostic tests, and any other aspect of recovery.