Recent research highlights the difficulties facing victims of head injury and their family members after the accident. Unless a head injury leaves the victim totally unable to participate in health care decisions, he or she may be forced to make complex decisions while in an impaired state. Medical professionals and the families of head injury victims should be aware of the limited capacity to make medical decisions. The situation may leave doctors and loved ones in the unenviable position of attempting to care for victims who can state their preference, but who are incapable of making reasonable judgments about their best interests.
A study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded that the victims of moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries had not recovered their normal decision making abilities one month after the accident. In addition, the victims of complicated, though mild traumatic brain injuries also showed impaired decision making at the one month mark. Decision making ability was analyzed based on the patient’s ability to express choice, make reasonable choices, show appreciation of the available options and factors involved, reason, and understand the impact of the decisions.
This difficulty in making decisions could not come at a worse time. After an accident, countless decisions must be made regarding treatment and rehabilitation. In addition to the brain trauma, the victim may also have suffered orthopedic injuries that require care. If patients cannot fully comprehend the treatment options or the consequences of the decisions they are forced to make, they are unlikely to choose an optimum care plan.
Head injuries are drawing more attention than ever before. While it is important to understand the medical aspects of a head injury, work also needs to be done to help the victims of head injuries get the treatment they need.