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When a serious injury impacts your life, we help put the pieces back together.

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Can a “sniff test” predict the odds of recovery after a brain injury?

When someone suffers a serious brain injury, one of the hardest things for their family members to endure is the initial waiting period in which doctors struggle to determine just how well the victim is likely to recover. There’s a lot of guesswork involved. Doctors struggle to get it right because knowing just how badly someone is injured and how much work they may need to heal can help them determine the course of treatment.

Newly published research may now give doctors another tool: The so-called “sniff test” developed at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science can help predict which patients will make the best recovery almost immediately after their injuries — even while they’re unconscious.

Severe brain injuries often lead to a loss of consciousness or “minimal” consciousness in victims — but there’s a big difference between the two in terms of how well the situation bodes for recovery. The big problem is that someone in a vegetative state can appear minimally conscious (and vice versa). Even brain scans may not help doctors tell the difference.

Because olfactory responses are automatic, someone who is minimally conscious may change their breathing and take in more shallow breaths in response to strong odors. When repeated regularly, this nonverbal, automatic response can help doctors tell the difference between a patient who has no awareness of their surroundings and one who is minimally aware. According to the study, 91% of those who had a response were still alive more than three years later, while 63% of those who had no response had died.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) change the lives of both victims and their families forever. If your loved one suffered a TBI due to someone else’s actions or negligence, find out more about your legal right to pursue compensation.