Of all the injuries that we’ve seen our clients cope with, brain injuries are often among the most devastating and difficult to recover from. As the central organ that regulates thought, speech, memory, emotions and body coordination even a minor brain injury can have permanent consequences. Injuries as seemingly small as a concussion or bump on the head can change quality of life. In more severe cases, a brain injury can cause temporary or permanent amnesia, blackouts and seizures, and even a comatose state.
But the trouble with brain injuries is not just that they’re serious: it’s also that they’re hard to recover from. Even with the best medical science available, a doctor may not be able to give a patient any clear idea of when or if they will recover their full cognitive abilities. Treatments are often hit-and-miss.
That’s what makes a new study in Neurology particular promising. The study followed the outcomes of patients with head injuries, and noticed an important trend: those who have more “cognitive reserve” have better outcomes.
What is cognitive reserve? It’s a sort of buffed up level of mental dexterity that comes from lots of mental engagement, like reading books or going to school. Cognitive reserve is sort of the brain equivalent of going to the gym all the time. It represents a stronger brain that can take on more strain and bounce back from it better. The study
suggests that that includes better recovery from serious brain injuries.
Unfortunately, these results have been distorted in the media, which has focused on education. Going to school is indeed one way to build up cognitive reserve, with more years of schooling translating to more reserve. But it’s not the only way: sudoku, social engagement, reading and writing, and even learning a new language are all ways to get that much-needed reserve. And the advantages of these other methods is that they can be done on a day to day basis as a habit, often for little or no cost, whereas schooling is a years-long commitment with a high price tag.
So can a brain injury victim pick up books or enroll in Latin class to miraculously recover? Unfortunately not. In many cases a head injury patient will actually be advised to minimize mental strain, allowing the brain the rest and recover slowly. The benefit of cognitive reserve is one that has to be built up in advance—in other words, read more today and you may shrug off a concussion tomorrow.
If you or someone you love has suffered a head injury from an accident, contact Steinger, Iscoe and Greene for a free consultation today.