Recovering From Brain Injury, Day-By-Day — The Plateau Fallacy

In The Nature Of Head Injury, an article published in the book Traumatic Brain Injury and Vocational Rehabilitation, by The Research and Training Center at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Thomas Kay, Ph.D. and Muriel Lezak, Ph.D, shine some light on some common misconceptions about brain injury.

The third myth debunked by Kay and Lezak is the concept of a “plateau”.

[…] this concept says that “recovery” starts after emergence from coma, continues at a gradual upward pace, then slows down, and levels off, so that no more improvement occurs. The visual analogy is a geographic one –a plateau.

The belief is that, after a while, the injured’s progress in their rehabilitation will slowly decline — that all of the recovery happens in an initial outburst — and that there is not much to be done for the victim after this “burst” has worn off.

This, Kay and Lezak argue, is an underestimation of the injured’s ability to recover.

[Injury victims] may take one step forward, two back, do nothing for awhile, then unexpectedly make a series of gains. When one is preoccupied with watching for plateaus, it becomes easy to disengage from the client whose progress is sputtering.

This belief in a “plateau” can lead to lots of frustration. Professionals and families alike might grow disillusioned and disenchanted when that first lull is reached, thinking that this spells the end of the victim’s recovery. It can cause the injured to feel abandoned, and cause them to lose hope that they can reconstruct their lives. This is the complete opposite of the mindset needed to overcome injury.

This myth also ignores the impact certain experiences and life changes can have in someone’s recovery from an injury.

Second, long “plateaus” can be interrupted years later by energizing environmental events. The appearance of a new, committed counselor, or the influx of social contacts that come from being “forced” to a support group, can uncover functional potential in head injured persons that has lain dormant for years.

In helping a loved one overcome an injury, we must keep a positive attitude. The belief in a “plateau” creates an unneeded obstacle. Recovering from an injury is a day-by-day, step-by-step process, with many ups-and-downs.


This post is a part of the Debunking Ten Myths Of “Recovery” series. If you are interested in reading the rest of the series, you can view the rest of the posts on the Ten Recovery Myths tag.

Author: Administrator

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