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Recovery and Rehabilitation

The pace and extent of recovery from brain injury can vary considerably, even between patients with similar injuries. The majority of recovery from brain injuries occurs within the first six months to a year after trauma.

The pace and extent of recovery from brain injury can vary considerably, even between patients with similar injuries. The majority of recovery from brain injuries occurs within the first six months to a year after trauma, but one study (Sbordone 1994) indicates that a patient's function following severe traumatic brain injury can degrade for up to ten years post injury. The pace of recovery and even the extent of recovery can be improved by proper physical and cognitive rehabilitation. Levels of recovery are often measured in rehabilitation programs with the use of the Rancho Los Amigos Scale.




Complete absence of observable change in behavior when presented with visual, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular or painful stimuli.


Demonstrates generalized reflex response to painful stimuli.
Responds to repeated auditory stimuli with increased or decreased activity.
Responds to external stimuli with physiological changes generalized, gross body movement and/or not purposeful vocalization.
Responses noted above may be same regardless of type and location of stimulation.
Responses may be significantly delayed.


Demonstrates withdrawal or vocalization to painful stimuli.
Turns toward or away from auditory stimuli.
Blinks when strong light crosses visual field.
Follows moving object passed within visual field.
Responds to discomfort by pulling tubes or restraints.
Responds inconsistently to simple commands.
Responses directly related to type of stimulus.
May respond to some persons (especially family and friends) but not to others.


Alert and in heightened state of activity.
Purposeful attempts to remove restraints or tubes or crawl out of bed.
May perform motor activities such as sitting, reaching and walking but without any apparent purpose or upon another's request.
Very brief and usually non-purposeful moments of sustained alternatives and divided attention.
Absent short-term memory.
May cry out or scream out of proportion to stimulus even after its removal.
May exhibit aggressive or flight behavior.
Mood may swing from euphoric to hostile with no apparent relationship to environmental events.
Unable to cooperate with treatment efforts.
Verbalizations are frequently incoherent and/or inappropriate to activity or environment.


Alert, not agitated but may wander randomly or with a vague intention of going home.
May become agitated in reponse to external stimulation, and/or lack of environmental structure.
Not oriented to person, place or time.
Frequent brief periods of non-purposeful sustained attention.
Severely impaired recent memory, with confusion of past and present in reaction to ongoing activity.
Absent goal directed, problem solving, self-monitoring behavior.
Often demonstrates inappropriate use of objects without external direction.
May be able to perform previously learned tasks when structured and cues provided.
Unable to learn new information.
Able to respond appropriately to simple commands fairly consistently with external structures and cues.
Responses to simple commands without external structure are random and non-purposeful in relation to command.
Able to converse on a social, automatic level for brief periods of time when provided external structure and cues.
Verbalizations about present events become inappropriate and confabulatory when external structure and cues are not provided.


Inconsistently oriented to person, time and place.
Able to attend to highly familiar tasks in non-distracting environment for 30 minutes with moderate redirection.
Remote memory has more depth and detail than recent memory.
Vague recognition of some staff.
Able to use assistive memory aide with maximum assistance.
Emerging awareness of appropriate response to self, family and basic needs.
Moderate assist to problem solve barriers to task completion.
Supervised for old learning (e.g. self care).
Shows carry over for relearned familiar tasks (e.g. self care).
Maximum assistance for new learning with little or no carryover.
Unaware of impairments, disabilities and safety risks.
Consistently follows simple directions.
Verbal expressions are appropriate in highly familiar and structured situations.


Consistently oriented to person and place, within highly familiar environments. Moderate assistance for orientation to time.
Able to attend to highly familiar tasks in a non-distraction environment for at least 30 minutes with minimal assist to complete tasks.
Minimal supervision for new learning.
Demonstrates carryover of new learning.
Initiates and carries out steps to complete familiar personal and household routine but has shallow recall of what he/she has been doing.
Able to monitor accuracy and completeness of each step in routine personal and household ADLs and modify plan with minimal assistance.
Superficial awareness of his/her condition but unaware of specific impairments and disabilities and the limits they place on his/her ability to safely, accurately and completely carry out his/her household, community, work and leisure ADLs.
Minimal supervision for safety in routine home and community activities.
Unrealistic planning for the future.
Unable to think about consequences of a decision or action.
Overestimates abilities.
Unaware of others' needs and feelings.
Unable to recognize inappropriate social interaction behavior.


Consistently oriented to person, place and time.
Independently attends to and completes familiar tasks for 1 hour in distracting environments.
Able to recall and integrate past and recent events.
Uses assistive memory devices to recall daily schedule, "to do" lists and record critical information for later use with stand-by assistance.
Initiates and carries out steps to complete familiar personal, household, community, work and leisure routines with stand-by assistance and can modify the plan when needed with minimal assistance.
Requires no assistance once new tasks/activities are learned.
Aware of and acknowledges impairments and disabilities when they interfere with task completion but requires stand-by assistance to take appropriate corrective action.
Thinks about consequences of a decision or action with minimal assistance.
Overestimates or underestimates abilities.
Acknowledges others' needs and feelings and responds appropriately with minimal assistance.
Low frustration tolerance/easily angered.
Uncharacteristically dependent/independent.
Able to recognize and acknowledge inappropriate social interaction behavior while it is occurring and takes corrective action with minimal assistance.


Independently shifts back and forth between tasks and completes them accurately for at least two consecutive hours.
Uses assistive memory devices to recall daily schedule, "to do" lists and record critical information for later use with assistance when requested.
Initiates and carries out steps to complete familiar personal, household, work and leisure tasks independently and unfamiliar personal, household, work and leisure tasks with assistance when requested.
Aware of and acknowledges impairments and disabilities when they interfere with task completion and takes appropriate corrective action but requires stand-by assist to anticipate a problem before it occurs and take action to avoid it.
Able to think about consequences of decisions or actions with assistance when requested.
Accurately estimates abilities but requires stand-by assistance to adjust to task demands.
Acknowledges others' needs and feelings and responds appropriately with stand-by assistance.
Depression may continue.
May be easily irritable.
May have low frustration tolerance.
Able to self monitor appropriateness of social interaction with stand-by assistance.


Able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously in all environments but may require periodic breaks.
Able to independently procure, create and maintain own assistive memory devices.
Independently initiates and carries out steps to complete familiar and unfamiliar personal, household, community, work and leisure tasks but may require more than usual amount of time and/or compensatory strategies to complete them.
Anticipates impact of impairments and disabilities on ability to complete daily living tasks and takes action to avoid problems before they occur but may require more than usual amount of time and/or compensatory strategies.
Able to independently think about consequences of decisions or actions but may require more than usual amount of time and/or comepensatory strategies to select the appropriate decision or action.
Accurately estimates abilities and independently adjusts to task demands.
Able to recognize the needs and feelings of others and automatically respond in appropriate manner.
Periodic periods of depression may occur.
Irritability and low frustration tolerance when sick, fatigued and/or under emotional stress.
Social interaction behavior is consistently appropriate.

Original Scale co-authored by Chris Hagen, Ph.D., Danese Malkmus, M.A., Patricia Durham, M.A. Communication Disorders Service, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, 1972. Revised 11/15/74 by Danese Malkmus, M.A., and Kathryn Stenderup, O.T.R.

Recent studies have revolutionized our thoughts about brain damage. There is now evidence that new brain cells are created throughout our lives. Cell research holds the promise of growing and replacing missing brain tissue - and offering hope to patients and family of brain damaged victims.

Rancho Los Amigos Level of Cognitive Functioning Scale

Rancho Level Clinical Correlate
I No Response
II Generalized response
III Localized response
IV Confused-agitated
V Confused-inappropriate
VI Confused-appropriate
VII Automatic-inappropriate
VIII Purposeful and appropriate

Disability Rating Scale (DRS)


Item Instructions Score

Arousability, Awareness and Responsivity

Eye Opening 0 = spontaneous
1 = to speech
2 = to pain
3 = none
Communication Ability 0 = oriented
1 = confused
2 = inappropriate
3 = incomprehensible
4 = none
Motor Response 0 = obeying
1 = localizing
2 = withdrawing
3 = flexing
4 = extending
5 = none

Cognitive Ability for Self Care Activities

Feeding 0 = complete
1 = partial
2 = minimal
3 = none
Toileting 0 = complete
1 = partial
2 = minimal
3 = none
Grooming 0 = complete
1 = partial
2 = minimal
3 = none

Dependence on Others

Level of Functioning 0 = completely independent
1 = independent in special environment
2 = mildly dependent
3 = moderately dependent
4 = markedly dependent
5 = totally dependent

Psychosocial Adaptability

Employability 0 = not restricted
1 = selected jobs
2 = sheltered workshop (non-competitive)
3 = not employable

Total DRS Score:

Disability Categories

Total DR Score Level of Disability
0 None
1 Mild
2-3 Partial
4-6 Moderate
7-11 Moderately Severe
12-16 Severe
17-21 Extremely Severe
22-24 Vegetative State
25-29 Extreme Vegetative State
Rappaport et al., (1982). Disability rating scale for severe head trauma patients: coma to community. Archives of
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 63: 118-123


Most rehabilitation centers have begun to favor a multidisciplinary team approach to brain injury rehabilitation. The multidisciplinary team includes specialists from physiatry, psychiatry, neurology, psychology, neuropsychology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and cognitive therapy.

As specialists in rehabilitation medicine, physiatrists are generally the primary treating physicians for head-injured patients. Neurologists specialize in illnesses that affect the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and muscles, including posttraumatic seizures, pain and headaches, cognitive disorders, personality changes, and disturbances of motor function. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnose and prescribe medications and psychotherapy for posttraumatic head-injured patients suffering emotional problems like depression, anger, mood fluctuations, and mania.

In contrast, Psychologists are not medical doctors, so they confine their treatment of posttraumatic emotional problems to psychotherapy. While they may advise the use of specific medications, they cannot prescribed them. A neuropsychologist is a psychologist with additional training in psychological testing - paper and pencil tests that try to localize and quantify posttraumatic brain dysfunction.

Neuropsychologist will generally report their findings to the doctors and other health care professionals caring for the patient. Cognitive therapists help brain-injured patients develop new strategies for remembering and exercising higher intellectual tasks like executive functioning. Occupational therapists help patients recover fine dexterity and figure out ways to button clothes, use utensils, etc. when they have lost fine manipulative skills. Physical therapists work with patients to improve gross motor skills like walking, climbing stairs, reaching, and lifting.


My name is Craig J. Phillips. I am a traumatic brain injury survivor and a master's level rehabilitation counselor. I sustained an open skull fracture with right frontal lobe damage and remained in a coma for 3 weeks at the age of 10 in August of 1967. I underwent brain and skull surgery after waking from the coma. Follow-up cognitive and psyche / social testing revealed that I would not be able to succeed beyond high school. In 1967 Neurological Rehabilitation was not available to me, so I had to teach myself how to walk, talk, read, write and speak in complete sentences. I completed high school on time and went on to obtain both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. For an in depth view of my process please read my post, My Journey thus Far.

Through out my lifetime I developed strategies to overcome many obstacles and in so doing I have achieved far beyond all reasonable expectations. On February 6, 2007 at the encouragement of a friend I created Second Chance to Live. Second Chance to Live, which is located at http://secondchancetolive.wordpress.com presents topics in such a way to encourage, motivate and empower the reader to live life on life's terms. I believe our circumstances are not meant to keep us down, but to build us up. As a traumatic brain injury survivor, I speak from my experience, strength and hope. As a professional, I provide information to encourage, motivate and empower both disabled and non-disabled individuals to not give up on their process. Please read my post, The Power of Identification. My interest is to provide encouragement, hope, motivation and empowerment to survivors and their families.