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What happens after a coma?

One of the most severe effects of a traumatic brain injury is a coma or vegetative state. This is a difficult, confusing time for anyone watching over a friend or family member in Rhode Island, but it can be overwhelming to think about what life might be like even if your loved one does wake up. The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center details some of the most realistic expectations you can have if you are caring for someone in this position.


It is important to understand that there is a difference between a coma and a vegetative state. People in the latter may smile, cry, moan or open eyes, but this is most often done without any apparent cause or purpose. Those in a coma are unable to open their eyes or follow any instructions and do not speak or communicate at all.


If your loved one does wake up from a coma or improve from a vegetative state, it is usually a gradual, slow process, especially if the condition has lasted for more than four weeks. Waking up is not a sudden event, but generally happen in the form of a slow regaining of consciousness and stalling at certain stages along the way.


Once a person reaches a minimally conscious state, he or she may be able to reach for objects, smile, cry, laugh, talk and gesture. You may be able to communicate through words or movements, but the progress is typically inconsistent and often takes a long time to become regular.


If your loved one emerges from the minimally conscious state, they will likely be confused and require extensive therapy to combat the damage that has occurred. This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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