Can you heal a damaged brain?
No, you cannot heal a damaged brain. Medical treatments can just help to stop further damage and limit the functional loss from the damage. The healing process of the brain is not the same as the skin. When the skin gets damaged, such as due to minor skin wounds, it usually heals wells without leaving scars. Major wounds can heal with scarring. Skin healing is completed by replacing the damaged/lost cells with new ones. In the brain, the damaged cells are nerve cells (brain cells) known as neurons and neurons cannot regenerate. The damaged area gets necrosed (tissue death) and it is never the same as it was before.
When the brain gets injured, you are often left with disabilities that persist for the rest of your life. Rehabilitation can help in functional recovery, but structural abnormality is hard to correct with available treatments.
What causes brain damage?
Brain damage can be caused either by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or acquired brain injury (ABI). Brain injuries can cause rupture or blockage of the blood vessels. Depending on the impact of the injury, oxygen and nutrient supply get disrupted to a part or all of the brain. Nutrient and oxygen deprivation of the nerve cells for a prolonged period may lead to brain damage.
TBI refers to brain injuries caused by an external force. They usually result from head injuries. Examples include
- Violent blow or jolt to the head
- Objects, such as a bullet or shattered piece of skull, that penetrate the brain
ABI refers to the brain injury that is “acquired” during your life. This means the injury was not congenital (present since birth) or due to genetic causes. An acquired brain injury or ABI includes injuries due to an external force (TBI). They, however, also include injuries that do not involve an external force, such as a tumor, stroke or a reduced supply of oxygen to the brain.
How is a damaged brain treated?
A traumatic brain injury needs emergency care that aims at
- Making sure there is enough oxygen: Oxygen will be delivered through a face mask connected to an oxygen cylinder. You may be put on artificial respiration with the help of ventilators.
- An adequate blood supply: A blood transfusion may be done.
- Maintaining blood pressure with fluids and medications.
- Preventing any further injury to the head or neck.
Doctors will focus on minimizing further loss due to inflammation, bleeding or reduced oxygen supply to the brain.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)
The doctor may prescribe hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to improve the lost cognitive functions/skills, such as reading or cooking, after the brain damage. Currently, HBOT is one of the most important therapies for TBI. It involves putting you in an oxygen-rich chamber that increases the blood oxygen levels ten times the normal level.
Noninvasive brain stimulation
Noninvasive brain stimulation without the introduction of any instruments through the skin. It is a painless procedure for the treatment of TBI. Studies have shown that it could improve depression and cognitive function after TBI.
There is something known as a “stem cell” that seems to be a promising option to regenerate damaged neurons in the brain. Stem cells are a special type of cells that can be trained to develop into any kind of cell, such as a neuron. However, research is ongoing to determine the efficacy and safety of the therapy.
If there is no healing, how does the brain repair itself?
The brain can be repaired in the following ways
After the damage of brain cells or neurons in a certain area of the brain, the surviving brain cells adapt to compensate for the lost cells. This ability of the brain is known as neuroplasticity, which helps the brain to repair itself. Though damage in the affected areas seems to be irreparable with current therapies, the brain can train its surviving cells to carry its functions.
Neuroplasticity helps recovery from brain damage, but rehabilitation therapy is needed to enhance this neuroplasticity. The quicker the rehabilitation process, the quicker is the recovery. However, some may never recover at all.
Rehabilitation is a special type of therapy that helps to improve the ability to perform daily activities, such as walking, climbing stairs and cooking.
The type and the duration of rehabilitation depend on how severe the injury is and the part of the brain that is injured.
Rehabilitation therapy includes
- Occupational therapy: To learn, relearn or improve skills to perform everyday activities.
- Physical therapy: To help with mobility and relearning movement patterns, balance and walking.
- Speech and language therapy: To help improve communication skills and use assistive communication devices (if necessary).
- Psychotherapy: To help learn coping strategies and improve physical and mental wellbeing.
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