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Minimally Conscious States After Brain Injury and the Rights of Patients and Family

On Behalf of | Aug 28, 2017 | Firm News

NEW YORK. Brain injury can be among the most serious and devastating injuries a person can suffer. In the most serious cases, individuals may be unable to move or speak. Some individuals are diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state in which doctors believe that no consciousness is present. However, other patients might be diagnosed as being in a minimally conscious state. In this case, the person may be able to understand spoken commands and may be able to respond in limited ways—for instance by moving a finger or an eye.

In the past, little hope has been given for individuals in a persistent vegetative state. However, one doctor writing for the New York Times notes that these individuals may sometimes be misdiagnosed. In fact, because their ability to communicate may be so limited, families who tell doctors they see their loved ones trying to communicate may be dismissed as expressing wishful thinking. The doctor writing for the Times noted one patient who had been first diagnosed in a persistent vegetative state who was later found to be able to communicate and have some brain activity.

New research suggests that the brain can re-wire itself after even some of the most severe traumatic brain injuries. However, when patients have been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, their insurance providers may not be willing to provide them with the rehabilitative care that could help them recover some abilities and function. Even individuals in minimally conscious states have been found to recover abilities with the help of the latest rehabilitative technology, including deep brain stimulation. In some cases, the technology is relatively low-cost. It may require nothing more than an eye-tracking device (which can cost about $30) and time.

For children diagnosed with severe brain damage, the prognosis their parents often receive is very grim. According to Scientific American families may either be encouraged to withdraw medical care or institutionalize these children. Yet, some doctors may be basing their persistent vegetative state diagnosis on the fact that their patients cannot move. After all, medicine is a science whose data is based on observations. Barring movement, doctors sometimes have trouble understanding a patient’s internal mental state. In fact, when one doctor studied the brains of severely brain damaged infants, he found that while their motor networks were damaged, other areas of their brains remained intact.

What does this mean for the most seriously brain damaged patients? Does this mean that there is hope? While insurance companies may want to withdraw care, these patients may be in need of some of the most rigorous courses of care available.

At the end of the day, it is often up to families to advocate for their loved one’s care. If your loved one has suffered a serious brain injury, consider speaking to Antin, Ehrlich, & Epstein: Accident and Injury Lawyers in New York. Our firm may be able to help you fight for the recovery your loved ones may deserve to help them receive the care that could improve their quality of life.