While there are occasionally cases that make the news of someone recovering from locked-in syndrome or a similar diagnosis, this is incredibly rare. Most people diagnosed with this condition do not recover any significant motor function following their illness or injury. Those with an accurate diagnosis of locked-in syndrome suffer from a permanent locked-in condition in most cases.
There may be conditions that at first appear to be like locked-in syndrome that are reversible. For example, doctors initially diagnosed a Nebraska man with a stroke that affected the brain stem, but they later found he had posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome. Following treatment for the condition, the man recovered motor function within a few weeks.
Permanent Effects of Locked-In Syndrome
Based on the diagnostic criteria, those with locked-in syndrome suffer from a lack of motor function in most of the body. This includes all significant movement in all four limbs, the head, and the neck.
They do, however, remain cognitively intact and aware of what is happening around them. They can generally hear and see, and many retain the ability to blink as well as vertical eye movements.
Some people struggle with autonomic functions such as breathing, temperature regulation, and sleep patterns, although not all require mechanical ventilation or other life-sustaining support.
There is some limited research to show that patients with locked-in syndrome who quickly recover smooth horizontal eye movements may have a higher chance at a more significant recovery than those who do not have horizontal eye movement within a few weeks of their initial illness or injury.
Understanding the Causes of Locked-In Syndrome
Locked-in syndrome often occurs because of damage to nerve cells, the myelin sheath, or the brainstem. When illness, injury, or condition causes damage to these integral parts of the brain and nervous system, the effects can be catastrophic. Locked-in syndrome may occur because of:
- A stroke or brain hemorrhage that interrupts the blood supply to the brainstem
- A lesion or tumor on the brainstem
- A traumatic brain injury affecting the brainstem
- Poisoning or snake bites with neurotoxic venom that damages nerve cells
- Osmotic demyelination syndrome or other conditions that damage the myelin sheath
In most cases, the damage done to the brainstem or nervous system is enough to cause permanent injuries and lasting impairment. Occasionally, though, the damage may be incomplete. When this occurs, the patient may recover some motor function or make a near-complete recover with intensive rehabilitation and therapy.
Treatment and Prognosis for Patients With a Locked-In Diagnosis
There is no standard treatment or cure for locked-in syndrome. Treatment generally focuses on prevention of secondary infections and improving quality of life. Establishing communication is often a top priority, possible through:
- Blinking to answer yes or no questions
- Eye gaze devices
- Brain-computer interface devices
Family members can learn to provide some care while home health appointments can manage feedings and respiratory support once the patient returns home. With help from lifts, customized power chairs, and other equipment, many people with locked-in syndrome can live a relatively high quality of life.
Those with early signs of recovery may require inpatient rehabilitation and intensive therapy that includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and a focus on regaining movement, rebuilding strength, and relearning skills.
You May Be Able to Take Legal Action if Your Loved One Has Locked-in Syndrome
In some cases, you may be eligible to pursue compensation for the past and future losses and expenses your loved one endures because of locked-in syndrome. This may be possible if your condition occurred because of a traumatic brain injury or medical malpractice. The team from Newsome Melton is standing by to review your case and help you understand your loved one’s legal rights.
Call our office today at 1-866-611-BASC to get started.