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Recovery and Rehabilitation

By Dr. Ava Easton, The Encephalitis Society

The acute phase of the illness (the time of active brain inflammation) can last anything from a few days to weeks and even months.  In some cases the person may be in a coma during this acute illness.  The acute stage may be followed by a phase of fairly rapid improvement which may slow down but recovery can gradually continue over the years to come. 

No two cases of encephalitis will have an identical outcome. It is not uncommon to have some residual problems on going home, some of which will manifest more at home as you try to get back to normal life. Some of these features may be subtle when in hospital and indeed not really elaborated on or explored as they are part of the recuperating phase. Outcomes vary between those who are able to return to their former work and lifestyle (with perhaps only a slight change in their abilities) to those left profoundly disabled, physically, cognitively or both.  A small percentage of those affected by encephalitis will need to remain in residential care for the rest of their lives.

Nerve cells in the brain may be damaged or destroyed by both the infection and inflammation. The resulting damage is termed an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI).  The loss of brain function from ABI can range from very minor impairment, such as some loss in speed of thinking, to more significant impairments such as memory loss. The degree and type of damage will vary according to the cause, the severity of the inflammation, the parts of the brain affected, and any delay in treatment.  It is this combination which will determine the pattern of difficulties that remain after the illness. For some people significant changes may occur in personality and in the ability to function day to day even if there is a complete physical recovery.  Coming to terms with these problems can be very distressing and challenging for everyone concerned.  The person you knew, or who was you, may have changed and the person they have become, or you have become, may present with a number of problems.

During the early days, weeks or months after encephalitis, the main aim is to provide a safe environment and gentle stimulation to encourage the process of spontaneous recovery.  In the later stages, when spontaneous recovery slows or stops, the main aims are to help the individual affected by encephalitis develop new skills, habits and strategies for coping with any remaining difficulties.

It is important not to underestimate the time that the person and the whole family will need to adjust, in both practical and emotional terms, to their new situation.  Those involved have, in effect, suffered a complicated form of bereavement; it is not unrealistic, therefore, to think of allowing several months and sometimes longer to come to terms with what has happened.    Nevertheless people often report successfully continuing to make progress and adjustment over long periods of time.

FS035V2 Recovery and Rehabilitation- General Considerations

Date created: July 2013/  Last updated: February 2016/  Review date: February 2019

Disclaimer: If you would like more information on the source material the author used to write this document please contact The Encephalitis Society. None of the authors of the above document has declared any conflict of interest which may arise from being named as an author of this document. Please refer to the Medical Terms Glossary if necessary.

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The Encephalitis Society is the operating name of the Encephalitis Support Group which is a registered Charity and Company Limited by Guarantee.

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