Recovery of patients after four months or more in the persistent vegetative state.BMJ 1993; 306 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.306.6892.1597 (Published 12 June 1993) Cite this as: BMJ 1993;306:1597
A retrospective review was made of the case notes of 43 consecutive patients admitted to a unit specialising in the rehabilitation of people in the persistent vegetative state. Eleven of these patients regained awareness four months or more after suffering brain damage. The time to the first reported incidence of eye tracking was between four months and three years, and the time to the first response to command was between four and 12 months. Only one patient was eventually unable to communicate, six could use non-verbal methods of indicating at least a yes or no response, and four were able to speak. Six patients remained totally dependent while two became independent in daily activities. Four patients became independent in feeding, three required help, and four remained on gastrostomy feeding. Thus some patients can regain awareness after more than four months in a vegetative state, and, although few reach full independence, most can achieve an improved quality of life within the limitations of their disabilities. The recovery period is prolonged and may continue for several years. Even patients with profound brain damage should be offered the opportunity of a specialist rehabilitation programme.