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Moving helps treat brain injuries

The long-standing accepted treatment of brain injuries called for the patient’s rest immediately after the injury. Because the brain is susceptible to a lack of blood flow, according to this belief, increased activity that was initiated too quickly could be harmful. However, a recent study by a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic’s Neurointensive Care Unit indicates that patients with brain injuries do better when they get out of bed and move earlier.

Until this study, there was no research on whether patients suffering brain injuries from head trauma, stroke or seizures could benefit from starting rehabilitation immediately or whether this was safe.

Research had been performed, however, on early mobilization of patients with other injuries. Physicians had long encouraged other patients to begin moving as early as possible because this increases circulation and reduces swelling, inflammation and risk of blood clots while it also speeds healing.

The researcher followed over 600 patients with a brain injury over a year. Half were instructed to get out of bed as early as the first day they were admitted to an intensive care unit. These patients received benefit through starting their rehabilitation earlier, spending less time in the ICU and hospital, being on the ventilator for less time — if they needed ventilator therapy — and suffered fewer pressure ulcers and infections.

This movement also speeds the brain’s recovery. It forms new synapses and neural circuits begin to change and adapt. New functions start in the brain’s remaining areas.

It is difficult, however, to have brain injury patients move. Two nurses over 30 minutes were needed to assist a 66-year-old patient out of bed and into a chair during a visit with her daughter. This patient suffered severe seizures that damaged her brain and she was unable to sit, stand or walk without assistance and could not speak because she was connected to a ventilator.

This study has caused Cleveland Clinic to install ceiling mounted lifts at each patient’s bedside in the Neurointensive Care Unit to assist with patient movement. Training and other equipment was also provided for safer movement of patients.

Laws are in place that can help these victims and their families obtain compensation for brain injuries caused by the negligence or recklessness of another. Victims and their families should be aware of their legal rights.