A “minimally conscious state” means someone appears to be unconscious or in a significantly altered state but makes purposeful movements or demonstrates awareness. This type of communication or reaction may only occur occasionally, but it must be reproducible for diagnosis. Through these actions, these patients show evidence of awareness of those around them and their environment.
Understanding a “Minimally Conscious State”
Patients in a minimally conscious state appear to have an altered consciousness and may appear to be in a coma. However, the patient demonstrates an awareness of their environment and the people around them by responding to commands or cognitive stimuli in some form.
Those in a minimally conscious state may be able to communicate using blinking or movement codes or act on command. For example, the patient may respond to a command to squeeze a loved one’s hand, blink, or move a finger.
In some cases, a minimally conscious state is the next step in the process of waking up from a coma or vegetative state. When this happens, it is an improvement in their condition. In other cases, a minimally conscious state is the permanent outcome of a traumatic brain injury and the family should expect no significant recovery.
Traumatic Brain Injuries Can Cause Patients to Go into a Minimally Conscious State
Many medical conditions and accidents can lead to a patient falling into a minimally conscious state. This may include:
- Traumatic brain injury from a car accident, personal injury accident, or violent act
- Progressive degenerative disorders affecting the brain
- Brain tumors
- Some metabolic diseases
- Congenital disorders
- Other neurologic conditions
It is important to know that a minimally conscious state can be temporary or permanent. Most who transition through this state do so in the first few weeks. Those who show no improvement a year or more later are unlikely to make significant improvements over time, although it is possible. Those who do improve after a long period are more likely to have severe impairments than those who transition out of a minimally conscious state quickly.
Diagnosing a Person in a Minimally Conscious State
Diagnosing whether a person is in a minimally conscious state and whether that state is transitional, continuing, or permanent requires considering several factors, including:
- The type of brain injury sustained
- The severity of the brain injury
- The responsiveness of the patient
- How long that person remains in this state
In general, a person must be in a minimally conscious state for four weeks or more to get a “continuing” minimally conscious state diagnosis. A “permanent” diagnosis may not happen until a year or more after the initial brain injury.
A diagnosis of a minimally conscious state requires the patient to have the ability to demonstrate self-awareness or environmental awareness, but only in an extremely limited way. For example, a patient may be able to:
- Follow very basic commands
- Answer yes or no questions with gestures
- Produce short, understandable speech
- Create purposeful emotional responses or movements
- Smile, laugh, or cry in the appropriate situation
- Eye movement and fixation following moving objects
Treatment and Recovery from a Minimally Conscious State
Some people transition through a minimally conscious state and may recover fully. However, those who spend more than a few days or weeks in this type of impaired consciousness are unlikely to make a full recovery. Significant recovery for those diagnosed with permanent minimally conscious state is extremely rare.
There is no treatment or cure for bringing someone out of a minimally conscious state, but providing supportive treatments and therapies can help keep them healthy and strong in case he or she improves. This may include:
- Placing a feeding tube to provide adequate nutrition
- Taking steps to reduce the risk of bed sores and other skin concerns
- Keeping joints loose with regular bending and physical therapy
- Providing hygienic care
- Ensuring bowel movements and bladder emptying occur
In addition, medical care providers and family members should engage the person as often as possible, encouraging interaction and stimulating their senses. This could include asking questions, talking to them, playing favorite music, watching television or movies, reading to them, and showing them pictures of loved ones or favorite places.
Taking Legal Action on Behalf of a Family Member in a Minimally Conscious State
If your loved one is in a minimally conscious state, your family may be able to pursue compensation to pay for their rehabilitation and care. The attorneys from Newsome | Melton can review your case and determine if you can take legal action. This may be possible if:
- He or she suffered a traumatic brain injury in a personal injury accident
- He or she suffered a traumatic brain injury because of a violent act
- A delayed diagnosis worsened their condition
- Medical malpractice played a role in causing or worsening their condition
Our brain injury lawyers take on even the most complex cases. We can help you understand your rights and navigate the claims process on behalf of your beloved family member. Call (800) 917-5888 to get started with a no-cost case review.