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What Is Unresponsiveness Wakefulness Syndrome?

On Behalf of Gierth-Eddy Law Offices, PLLC June 23, 2021

When a catastrophic car accident leaves a loved one in a comatose state, hope may feel like a foreign concept. But then your loved one’s doctor brings you inspiring news: Your loved one is awake but does not show signs of awareness. In other words, he or she has progressed to what health care professionals now call “unresponsiveness wakefulness syndrome.”

According to Brain Foundation, unresponsive wakefulness syndrome is just another term for “vegetative state.” When a person develops VS/UWS, he or she may be able to open his or her eyes, wake and fall asleep at regular intervals and demonstrate the most basic of reflexes, such as pulling away when someone squeezes the hand too hard or blinking at a loud noise. The patient may also be able to regulate his or her heartbeat and breathe without assistance. Beyond this, however, a person with UWS experiences no emotions, shows no signs of cognitive functioning and will not respond to voices or moving objects.

Treatment for UWS

Unfortunately, there is no empirically validated treatment method for VS/UWS. However, researchers have been testing the effectiveness of stimulation techniques such as sensory regulation, sensory stimulation, social interaction and the like. Though researchers cannot guarantee recovery from a vegetative state, many agree that supportive treatment, combined with sensory stimulation, can give patients improved odds of natural improvement. Sensory stimulation includes activities such as talking to VS/UWS patients, playing their favorite songs, showing photos of friends or loved ones, holding their hands and spraying favorite perfumes.

Prognosis for VS/UWS

It is not uncommon for VS/UWS patients to emerge from their impaired states within a few weeks of falling into them. However, whereas some patients recover gradually, others remain in their impaired states for years. Others never recover.

Several factors affect the chances of recovery for comatose patients. Those include age, the extent of injury to the brain and the cause. Children, for instance, have a 60% chance of recovering from traumatic brain injuries, whereas adults have a 50% recovery rate. After the first year, recovery rates decline. If, after a year, a patient does recovery, he or she has a high likelihood of living with significant disabilities.

If you have a loved one with UWS, you may wonder what, if anything, you can do to seek justice on his or her behalf. An attorney can help you explore your options and take the next steps to financial recovery.