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Brain Trauma is very tricky and can result in multiple changes to personality, physical abilites, even apperance . . . or not. The brain is a marvelous instrument able to leap tall buildings, mover faster than a locomotive, store and process more than the most complicated computer AND can adapt how it operates to assist in survival. There is even recent school of thought that suggests the brain may be able to move functions normally attributed to the left brain, over to the right brain. It is adaptable, a survivalist and stubborn, but it needs time.

Most brain trauma, though not all, result in long term rehabilitation. But, a surprising number of brain trauma victims return to a very able level of functionality. Most other areas of the body experiencing such trauma, would reluctantly cringe from healing, but not the brain.

The one emerging truism is that the individual is never the same after major brain trauma. That can be either good or bad. Some seem to mellow, some remember more or less than before, some find drive and new direction, but all are different. Don't be initially surprised by outbursts or nose picking. Social convention sometimes disappears requiring re-education. Sometimes the sex drive becomes either voracious or subdued.

Victims may temporarily lose stability, strength or balance. They may have sight or depth perception issues. Speech may be impaired. Movement may be restricted. Just understand that education, both physical and mental, is generally required and that it takes TIME. Both the patient and those they love must BE PATIENT (is that why they call them patients?). The brain needs rest, at first, to physically recover, then lots of stimulus, rehabilitation and repetition to fully recover.The good news is that more recover at least a portion of what they had than completely lose it.

We have found the below descritption of cognitive recovery to be very helpful:


The pace and extent of recovery from brain injury can vary considerably, even between patients with similar injuries. The majority of recovery from brain injuries occurs within the first six months to a year after trauma, but one study (Sbordone 1994) indicates that a patient's function following severe traumatic brain injury can occur for up to ten years post injury. The pace of recovery and even the extent of recovery can be improved by proper physical and cognitive rehabilitation. Levels of recovery are often measured in rehabilitation programs with the use of the Rancho Los Amigos Scale.


Rancho Levels of Cognitive Functioning

Level I - No Response: Total Assistance
•Complete absence of observable change in behavior when presented visual, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular or painful stimuli.

Level II - Generalized Response: Total Assistance
•Demonstrates generalized reflex response to painful stimuli.
•Responds to repeated auditory stimuli with increased or decreased activity.
•Responds to external stimuli with physiological changes generalized, gross body movement and/or not purposeful vocalization.
•Responses noted above may be same regardless of type and location of stimulation.
•Responses may be significantly delayed.

Level III - Localized Response: Total Assistance
•Demonstrates withdrawal or vocalization to painful stimuli.
•Turns toward or away from auditory stimuli.
•Blinks when strong light crosses visual field.
•Follows moving object passed within visual field.
•Responds to discomfort by pulling tubes or restraints.
•Responds inconsistently to simple commands.
•Responses directly related to type of stimulus.
•May respond to some persons (especially family and friends) but not to others.

Level IV - Confused/Agitated: Maximal Assistance
•Alert and in heightened state of activity.
•Purposeful attempts to remove restraints or tubes or crawl out of bed.
•May perform motor activities such as sitting, reaching and walking but without any apparent purpose or upon another's request.
•Very brief and usually non-purposeful moments of sustained alternatives and divided attention.
•Absent short-term memory.
•May cry out or scream out of proportion to stimulus even after its removal.
•May exhibit aggressive or flight behavior.
•Mood may swing from euphoric to hostile with no apparent relationship to environmental events.
•Unable to cooperate with treatment efforts.
•Verbalizations are frequently incoherent and/or inappropriate to activity or environment.

Level V - Confused, Inappropriate Non-Agitated: Maximal Assistance
•Alert, not agitated but may wander randomly or with a vague intention of going home.
•May become agitated in reponse to external stimulation, and/or lack of environmental structure.
•Not oriented to person, place or time.
•Frequent brief periods, non-purposeful sustained attention.
•Severely impaired recent memory, with confusion of past and present in reaction to ongoing activity.
•Absent goal directed, problem solving, self-monitoring behavior.
•Often demonstrates inappropriate use of objects without external direction.
•May be able to perform previously learned tasks when structured and cues provided.
•Unable to learn new information.
•Able to respond appropriately to simple commands fairly consistently with external structures and cues.
•Responses to simple commands without external structure are random and non-purposeful in relation to command.
•Able to converse on a social, automatic level for brief periods of time when provided external structure and cues.
•Verbalizations about present events become inappropriate and confabulatory when external structure and cues are not provided.

Level VI - Confused, Appropriate: Moderate Assistance
•Inconsistently oriented to person, time and place.
•Able to attend to highly familiar tasks in non-distracting environment for 30 minutes with moderate redirection.
•Remote memory has more depth and detail than recent memory.
•Vague recognition of some staff.
•Able to use assistive memory aide with maximum assistance.
•Emerging awareness of appropriate response to self, family and basic needs.
•Moderate assist to problem solve barriers to task completion.
•Supervised for old learning (e.g. self care).
•Shows carry over for relearned familiar tasks (e.g. self care).
•Maximum assistance for new learning with little or nor carry over.
•Unaware of impairments, disabilities and safety risks.
•Consistently follows simple directions.
•Verbal expressions are appropriate in highly familiar and structured situations.

Level VII - Automatic, Appropriate: Minimal Assistance for Daily Living Skills
•Consistently oriented to person and place, within highly familiar environments. Moderate assistance for orientation to time.
•Able to attend to highly familiar tasks in a non-distraction environment for at least 30 minutes with minimal assist to complete tasks.
•Minimal supervision for new learning.
•Demonstrates carry over of new learning.
•Initiates and carries out steps to complete familiar personal and household routine but has shallow recall of what he/she has been doing.
•Able to monitor accuracy and completeness of each step in routine personal and household ADLs and modify plan with minimal assistance.
•Superficial awareness of his/her condition but unaware of specific impairments and disabilities and the limits they place on his/her ability to safely, accurately and completely carry out his/her household, community, work and leisure ADLs.
•Minimal supervision for safety in routine home and community activities.
•Unrealistic planning for the future.
•Unable to think about consequences of a decision or action.
•Overestimates abilities.
•Unaware of others' needs and feelings.
•Unable to recognize inappropriate social interaction behavior.

Level VIII - Purposeful, Appropriate: Stand-By Assistance
•Consistently oriented to person, place and time.
•Independently attends to and completes familiar tasks for 1 hour in distracting environments.
•Able to recall and integrate past and recent events.
•Uses assistive memory devices to recall daily schedule, "to do" lists and record critical information for later use with stand-by assistance.
•Initiates and carries out steps to complete familiar personal, household, community, work and leisure routines with stand-by assistance and can modify the plan when needed with minimal assistance.
•Requires no assistance once new tasks/activities are learned.
•Aware of and acknowledges impairments and disabilities when they interfere with task completion but requires stand-by assistance to take appropriate corrective action.
•Thinks about consequences of a decision or action with minimal assistance.
•Overestimates or underestimates abilities.
•Acknowledges others' needs and feelings and responds appropriately with minimal assistance.
•Low frustration tolerance/easily angered.
•Uncharacteristically dependent/independent.
•Able to recognize and acknowledge inappropriate social interaction behavior while it is occurring and takes corrective action with minimal assistance.

Level IX - Purposeful, Appropriate: Stand-By Assistance on Request
•Independently shifts back and forth between tasks and completes them accurately for at least two consecutive hours.
•Uses assistive memory devices to recall daily schedule, "to do" lists and record critical information for later use with assistance when requested.
•Initiates and carries out steps to complete familiar personal, household, work and leisure tasks independently and unfamiliar personal, household, work and leisure tasks with assistance when requested.
•Aware of and acknowledges impairments and disabilities when they interfere with task completion and takes appropriate corrective action but requires stand-by assist to anticipate a problem before it occurs and take action to avoid it.
•Able to think about consequences of decisions or actions with assistance when requested.
•Accurately estimates abilities but requires stand-by assistance to adjust to task demands.
•Acknowledges others' needs and feelings and responds appropriately with stand-by assistance.
•Depression may continue.
•May be easily irritable.
•May have low frustration tolerance.
•Able to self monitor appropriateness of social interaction with stand-by assistance.

Level X - Purposeful, Appropriate: Modified Independent
•Able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously in all environments but may require periodic breaks.
•Able to independently procure, create and maintain own assistive memory devices.
•Independently initiates and carries out steps to complete familiar and unfamiliar personal, household, community, work and leisure tasks but may require more than usual amount of time and/or compensatory strategies to complete them.
•Anticipates impact of impairments and disabilities on ability to complete daily living tasks and takes action to avoid problems before they occur but may require more than usual amount of time and/or compensatory strategies.
•Able to independently think about consequences of decisions or actions but may require more than usual amount of time and/or comepensatory strategies to select the appropriate decision or action.
•Accurately estimates abilities and independently adjusts to task demands.
•Able to recognize the needs and feelings of others and automatically respond in appropriate manner.
•Periodic periods of depression may occur.
•Irritability and low frustration tolerance when sick, fatigued and/or under emotional stress.
•Social interaction behavior is consistently appropriate.

Original Scale co-authored by Chris Hagen, Ph.D., Danese Malkmus, M.A., Patricia Durham, M.A. Communication Disorders Service, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, 1972. Revised 11/15/74 by Danese Malkmus, M.A., and Kathryn Stenderup, O.T.R.

PDF of Brain Cognitive Levels