Recovery Takes Time — The “One Year” Myth

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,, aim to debunk common myths about head and brain injury.

The second myth debunked in the article is the “One Year” myth. There is, among patients and professionals alike, a mistaken notion that any and all recovery from brain injury will take place in the year following the accident.

It was a traditional rule of thumb for physicians to tell patients and families that “whatever recovery will occur will happen in the first 12 months.” This was probably based on the observation that the neurological examination at one year was quite predictive of neurological status years later.

It is true, that in a certain context, most “healing” can take place in the first year of rehabilitation. But this only refers to most of the damages to brain structure itself — connecting tissues, scarring, neurological paths. For the most part, these types of damages will heal in the famous “One Year” time frame.

The mistaken notion, however, lies in believing that this leads to full recovery. The brain might slowly heal itself, but some of the damage to cognitive function, as well as personality, might just as well be permanent.

Another aspect that is also overlooked is that slow — and even big — progress can be made, even years after the injury. This “One Year” myth ignores that a change of scenery, a new relationship or job — or any other sort of positive change — can spark progress.

The danger with the “recovery occurs within one year” myth is that it lulls families and professionals into thinking that the client’s level of performance at one year is what everyone is stuck with. While the major brain healing may well have occurred within this time frame, true rehabilitation may just be beginning.

The biggest fallacy with the “One Year” myth is that, after “time is up”, professionals might feel less inclined to remain helping the victim. Less attention might be given to the patient, and those around them might feel like there is not much to be done for the victim anymore. This is a mistake — someone who suffered brain injury never stops benefiting from a good, strong support network.

While it is true that great improvement can and does occur during the first year, we must never underestimate the power injury victims can show. Improving one’s life after an injury is a journey — it never ends, and every little bit of it, not matter how big or small, is a step in the right direction.


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.

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