Data on long-term functional recovery (LFR) following severe brain injury are essential for counseling of surrogates and for appropriate timing of outcome assessment in clinical trials. Delayed functional recovery (DFR) beyond 3–6 months is well documented following severe traumatic brain injury (sTBI), but there are limited data on DFR following severe cerebrovascular brain injury. The objective of this study was to assess LFR and DFR in patients with sTBI and severe stroke dependent on tracheostomy and tube feeding at the time of discharge from the intensive care unit (ICU).
The authors identified patients entered into their tracheostomy database 2008–2013 with sTBI and severe stroke, encompassing SAH, intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH), and acute ischemic stroke (AIS). Eligibility criteria included disease-specific indicators of severity, Glasgow Coma Scale score < 9 at time of tracheostomy, and need for tracheostomy and tube feeding at ICU discharge. Assessment was at 1–3 months, 6–12 months, 12–24 months, and 24–36 months after initial injury for presence of tracheostomy, ability to walk, and ability to perform basic activities of daily living (B-ADLs). Long-term functional recovery (LFR) was defined as recovery of the ability to walk or perform B-ADLs by the 24- to 36-month follow-up. Delayed functional recovery (DFR) was defined as progression in functional milestones between any 2 time points beyond the 1- to 3-month follow-up.
A total of 129 patients met the eligibility criteria. Functional outcomes were available for 129 (100%), 97 (75%), 83 (64%), and 80 (62%) patients, respectively, from assessments at 1–3, 6–12, 12–24 and 24–36 months; 33 (26%) died by 24–36 months. Fifty-nine (46%) regained the ability to walk and 48 (37%) performed B-ADLs at some point during their recovery. Among survivors who had not achieved the respective milestone at 1–3 months, 29/58 (50%) were able to walk and 28/74 (38%) performed B-ADLs at 6–12 months. Among survivors who had not achieved the respective milestone at 6–12 months, 5/16 (31%) were able to walk and 13/30 (43%) performed B-ADLs at 12–24 months. There was no significant difference in rates of LFR or DFR between patients with sTBI and those with severe stroke.
Among patients with severe brain injury requiring tracheostomy and tube feeding at ICU discharge, 46% regained the ability to walk and 37% performed B-ADLs 2–3 years after injury. DFR beyond 1–3 and 6–12 months was seen in over 30% of survivors, with no significant difference between sTBI and severe stroke.