For Individuals/Families

Measuring Injury and Recovery

It often takes some time to determine how serious the brain injury is. Each injury is different depending on where the brain is injured, how much of the brain is injured and the amount of swelling that occurs.

Tests like CT Scans and EEGs (electroencephalograms) tell the doctors about the damage to the brain. But tests alone can’t tell you about long-term recovery.

Sometimes doctors determine the severity of a brain injury by using a measurement called the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) together with the length of time a patient experiences “post-traumatic amnesia.”

Post-traumatic amnesia (PTA) is a state of acute confusion caused by cognitive impairment (i.e., problems with perception, thinking, remembering and/or concentration). During this stage, patients often cannot concentrate long enough to capture anything in their memory.

Brain Injury Severity
Initial Glasgow Coma Scale Duration of post-traumatic amnesia
Mild 12 – 15 less than 24 hours
Moderate 9 – 11 1 – 7 days
Severe 3 – 8 1 – 4 weeks
Very severe more than 4 weeks

Source: The Medical Journal of Australia

Tracking Recovery

People recovering from a brain injury go through stages.

How much and how fast a person recovers is affected by many things, including:

  • type and severity of the injury
  • length of coma
  • other injuries/complications
  • age and general health.

In general, the more serious the injury and the longer the period of unconsciousness—the longer the rehabilitation and the higher chance that some disability will remain.

Health care teams use a scale called the Rancho Los Amigos Scale to describe a person’s recovery from a brain injury. The scale is named after the hospital in the United States where it was created.

For more information on the early stages of recovery, see our Frequently Asked Questions in Acute Care.