When we hear the word coma many of us think of a person in a state of complete unawareness. In reality, coma simply means unconsciousness, of which there are varying levels.

The ABI survivor may be in a deeply unconscious state where no amount of stimulation will elicit a response. However, in other cases, a person who is in a coma may move, make noises or respond to stimulation.

The process of recovery from coma is gradual. The ABI survivor will typically emerge rather than suddenly wake up from this state, becoming progressively responsive to their environment and eventually regaining full consciousness.

The length of unconsciousness can be an indicator of severity of injury.

A person who remains unconscious for over six hours is likely to have sustained a severe brain injury.

Loss of consciousness for 15 minutes or less suggests a mild brain injury and the period between the two suggests a moderate brain injury.


While a person is in a coma, the medical team may conduct a number of assessments. The Glasgow Coma Scale (or GCS) is universally used to assess the level of consciousness (or unconsciousness) and later used to determine level of recovery or deterioration.

The scale has three categories:

• Eye Opening

• Best Motor Response (physical movement)

• Verbal Response

Each of these categories is scored from one to 15. The lower the total score on admission, the more severe the injury is assumed to be. The length of time a person remains in a state of coma is considered an indication of the extent of damage that remains and the likelihood of long-term difficulties.