A traumatic brain injury, stroke, or hemorrhage that affects the brain stem can lead to locked in syndrome while similar injuries to other parts of the brain can instead cause a vegetative state. While each condition has its own symptoms, those in a vegetative state have no awareness of the world around them while patients with locked in syndrome are aware of their surroundings, cognitively intact, and can interact with others using eye motions.
What Is a Vegetative State?
When a person is in a vegetative state, he or she is going through regular sleep/wake cycles and will open their eyes when awake. However, he or she is not aware of their surroundings. He or she may exhibit:
- Noises such as moaning or whining
- Crying and smiling without reason
- Blinking as well as horizontal and vertical eye movements
- Startled reactions to unexpected touch or loud noises
- Inability to follow instructions
- No speech or other communication
- No purposeful movement
About half of all patients who are in a vegetative state after traumatic brain injury four weeks following the injury will eventually recover to some degree, according to the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center. Some have an almost full recovery, but most have permanent cognitive and physical impairments.
Understanding Locked In Syndrome
Locked in syndrome, on the other hand, leaves the patient with a clear awareness of the world around them. He or she can interact with doctors and loved ones using blinking codes, eye gaze devices, and brain-computer interfaces. Other symptoms of locked in syndrome include:
- Global paralysis
- Ability to blink eyes and make vertical eye movements
- Full awareness and cognition of those around them
- No response to painful stimuli
- May lack autonomic functions such as breathing and swallowing
- Retains the ability to see and hear
Locked in syndrome is generally permanent. Some people with incomplete injuries may recover some movement or feeling, but significant recovery is extremely rare.
The Relationship of Locked In Syndrome and Vegetative States
Locked in syndrome and a vegetative state are both types of comas and patients with both exhibit sleep/wake cycles in most cases. Locked in syndrome is sometimes described as “pseudocoma” while a vegetative state is a type of minimally conscious state. Patients with both conditions may or may not breathe on their own, and neither condition leaves people with the ability to make meaningful movements.
Treatment for both conditions is supportive, and there is no cure. Patients with either condition are at an increased risk of secondary illnesses and infections including:
- Bed sores
- Other skin infections
- Other lung infections
- Urinary tract infections
It is not uncommon for doctors to at first believe patients with locked in syndrome are in a vegetative state. In many cases, it is the family of the patient who first recognizes awareness in their loved one. Doctors can then help them establish basic communication through blinking and eye gazes. Medical professionals can later recommend eye gaze or brain/computer interface devices for communication.
Life After a Locked In Syndrome Diagnosis
Those with a locked in syndrome diagnosis can live a relatively high quality of life with the right support and thanks to modern technology that allows them to interact with friends and family. Your loved one’s doctor can recommend devices and tools to make caring for them easier, including a hospital bed, lift, specialized power wheelchair, and communication devices.
Your loved one may require regular in-home visits from a nurse, or you may be able to learn to provide the necessary care on your own. Those with locked in syndrome need support for all activities of daily living, mobility, tube feeding, and self-care. However, he or she can live an active and stimulating intellectual life.
Pursuing Damages for Locked In Syndrome or a Vegetative State
If your loved one has a diagnosis of locked in syndrome or a vegetative state, you may be able to pursue compensation to cover their medical care, ongoing care costs, and more. If you believe your family member’s traumatic brain injury occurred because of an accident or medical malpractice, the team from Newsome | Melton is standing by to review your case for free.
Our legal team may be able to build a case to support the pursuit of compensation through an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. Your family member could be eligible for damages that include:
- Medical care costs
- Ongoing care costs
- Prescribed medical and assistive devices
- Lost wages and benefits
- Diminished earning capacity
- Out-of-pocket costs
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
Call us today at (800) 917-5888. A member of our team will evaluate your case and help you understand your legal options for going after the money your loved one needs and deserves.