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What do you need most after a traumatic brain injury? For years, doctors have said the number one answer was rest, but now one study suggests that brain injury patients really need to get out of bed.
A recent NPR story featured the work of Edward Manno, director of the Neurointensive Care Unit at the Cleveland Clinic, and nurse Kate Klein. Their study questioned the common knowledge among doctors: that traumatic brain injury patients need rest more than anything. While patients with other injuries benefited from being mobile as early as it was safe to do so, the head injury patients laid in bed. According to Klein:
“I asked myself that question. I asked my colleagues that question. . . . Why aren’t these patients getting out of bed? Is there something unique about patients with neurologic injury?”
Finding that no one had done the research to say whether rest or mobility was better, she and Dr. Manno created a study. It followed 600 brain injury patients over the course of the year: half with a mobility strategy and half with rest.
It turns out, getting brain injury patients up and moving soon after their injury led to shorter ICU and hospital stays. That means they also suffered fewer complications due to immobility, like bed sores and blood clots. The study even showed that patients that got up out of bed spent less time on a ventilator.
Getting up and moving may also help the brain heal itself sooner. After a traumatic brain injury, the brain rewires itself, finding new ways to do tasks that used to be the job of the injured neurons. One way physical and occupational therapists can help this process along is through repetition of the activity. By getting these traumatic brain injury patients up and out of bed, Klein and Dr. Manno may have been kick-starting the rewiring process, leading to speedier recoveries.
They are also providing familiar experiences, like going outside, which help to stimulate the brain. According to the NPR report:
Those experiences can be powerful, explains Klein, recalling a patient who suddenly began to speak after being outside for the first time. “She was listening to the traffic, feeling the wind on her face, and then her sons came and they said ‘Hi Mom,’ and she looked up and said, ‘Well, how are you doing?’ Those were her first words,” Klein says.
Recovering from a traumatic brain injury can be a long and complicated process. It is encouraging for survivors and their families to see researchers like Klein and Manno questioning assumptions and finding ways to speed the recovery process.
David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He helps traumatic brain injury victims collect medical benefits from their insurance companies after a car crash. If you know someone who has been seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.