Coma Recovery Scale

Assess the patient's coma recovery with the Coma Recovery Scale, a standardized tool for evaluating consciousness and predicting outcomes.

By Joshua Napilay on Jul 15, 2024.


Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What causes a person to lapse into a coma?

Coma is a state of deep unconsciousness where a person cannot move or respond to their surroundings. There are different causes of coma, including:

  • Traumatic brain injuries: Impacts on the head can cause brain damage that results in a coma.
  • Stroke: A blockage or bleeding in the brain can lead to a loss of blood supply and subsequent coma.
  • Brain tumors: Tumors can cause pressure inside the brain or directly affect brain function.
  • Drug or alcohol intoxication: Overdoses can depress the central nervous system to a degree that results in a coma.
  • Infections: Severe infections such as meningitis or encephalitis can cause swelling in the brain, leading to a coma.
  • Lack of oxygen: Hypoxia (a lack of oxygen reaching the brain) due to conditions like cardiac arrest or suffocation can cause coma.

How long may it take for a person to wake up from a coma?

It can last for varying lengths of time, depending on the severity of the brain injury and the underlying cause. Some people with severe brain injury may wake up from a coma in a few days or weeks, while others may remain in a coma for years or never regain consciousness. Recovery also varies for severe traumatic brain injury; some people recover fully, while others may have significant disabilities or stay in a vegetative state.

Why is being in a coma dangerous?

Being in a coma is hazardous for several reasons:

  • Physical complications: Comatose patients are prone to infections, bedsores, and muscle atrophy due to immobility.
  • Brain damage: The longer the brain is in a non-functional or minimally functional state, the greater the risk of permanent damage.
  • Dependency and care: Patients in a coma require intensive care, often including mechanical ventilation, feeding tubes, and constant monitoring to manage bodily functions and prevent complications.

The uncertainty and variability in outcomes make managing comas complex and challenging for healthcare providers and families.

What is a Coma Recovery Scale?

The Coma Recovery Scale-Revised (CRS-R) is a detailed and structured tool used to assess patients with severe traumatic brain injuries, particularly those exhibiting signs of disorders of consciousness such as a minimally conscious state or a vegetative state. The CRS-R is designed to help diagnose by measuring subtle signs of disorders of consciousness and neurobehavioral responses.

The scale has its own rating scale structure with categories that reflect various levels of responsiveness, from reflexive activity to cognitively mediated behaviors, which are more indicative of conscious awareness.

The CRS-R consists of six subscales, each addressing different functional domains: auditory, visual, motor, oromotor, communication, and arousal. For instance, the third rating scale category in the motor subscale measures the patient's ability to demonstrate purposeful movements.

Each subscale is structured from lower to higher levels, reflecting the gradation from non-responsive or reflexive behavior to behaviors that suggest a higher level of conscious interaction with the environment. The CRS-R's operationalized rating scale categories help establish a standardized neurobehavioral assessment measure.

Each operationalized rating scale category within the subscales is designed to capture the incremental recovery stages in a patient, allowing clinicians to assess the severity of the brain injury and track recovery progress over time.

The effectiveness of the CRS-R lies in its diagnostic accuracy and utility in clinical practice, rehabilitation medicine, and research. It has been validated through various studies demonstrating its ability to differentiate between different states of consciousness and predict patient outcomes.

The scale’s structured approach provides a reliable framework for evaluating recovery trajectories in individuals with severe brain injuries, facilitating appropriate therapeutic and rehabilitative interventions.

What does it assess?

When someone experiences a severe traumatic brain injury first, assessing different functions across several domains is essential. These functions include auditory, visual, motor, oromotor/verbal, communication, and arousal. Evaluating these functions, you can determine the level of consciousness and the potential for recovery in patients who have suffered from severe traumatic brain injury first.

How is it scored?

This is scored based on observations and tests across its multiple scales:

  • Auditory: Assesses responses to sounds and commands (e.g., turning head towards a sound).
  • Visual: Evaluates visual tracking, object recognition, and the ability to fixate on visual stimuli.
  • Motor: Observes motor responses like object manipulation, response to noxious stimulation, and automatic motor reactions.
  • Oromotor/verbal: Checks for verbal output or oromotor movements like swallowing or facial movements.
  • Communication: Tests the ability to communicate intentionally, either functionally or non-functionally.
  • Arousal: Measures the level of alertness and ability to open eyes with or without stimulation.

How are the results interpreted?

The scores from each possible rating scale category are combined to give an overall picture of the patient’s level of consciousness. High scores in seven rating scale categories typically indicate higher levels of function and consciousness:

  • A higher score on the auditory function scale suggests a better ability to follow commands and recognize sounds.
  • A higher score on the motor function scale indicates better voluntary control and response to stimuli.
  • The communication and arousal scales help assess the patient's ability to interact with their environment and maintain wakefulness.

How to use our Coma Recovery Scale template

When using the template score to measure the table, knowing how the rating scale category hierarchy works is essential, preparing yourself for assessments, administering them accurately, and interpreting the results correctly. Here's a step-by-step guide on the score to rating scale category structure measure the table and using the CRS-R template:


To conduct a quality assessment using the CRS-R, understand each domain and its associated tests. Create a quiet, controlled environment to minimize distractions and enhance the assessment's accuracy.

Administering the scale

Before conducting structured testing, observe the patient's behavior and resting posture. The assessment should be done in a sequence outlined in the CRS-R, beginning with less invasive tests and gradually moving to more interactive evaluations. Accurately and consistently document each response using the record form and follow the scoring guidelines for each function.

Scoring the test

Administer each test carefully and follow the scoring rules to assess the patient's responses. After scoring each domain, add the results to get a total score. For instance, evaluate whether the patient can follow simple commands in the third rating scale category of the communication subscale. This score will give you valuable information about the patient's overall consciousness and cognitive functioning.

Interpreting results

When interpreting the results, refer to the scoring guidelines. Higher scores generally indicate better cognitive functioning and higher consciousness. To track a patient's recovery, compare scores from multiple assessments over time. Improvements in the third rating scale category of the arousal subscale can indicate progress toward full wakefulness.

This can reveal insights into the patient's progress and responsiveness to treatment. In complex cases, discussing the results with colleagues or specialists for a thorough evaluation that considers all findings comprehensively is important.

Benefits of using this scale

The scale offers several significant benefits for the assessment and management of patients with disorders of consciousness, such as those in a coma or vegetative state. Here are some of the key advantages:

Detailed evaluation of consciousness levels

The CRS-R is a tool doctors use to accurately assess different levels of awareness in patients. It's important because it helps tell apart conditions like being in a vegetative state and being in a minimally conscious state, which is key for choosing the proper treatment.

Guidance for rehabilitation

The scale guides rehabilitation research efforts by identifying which neurological functions work correctly and which do not. This allows rehabilitation programs to be tailored to target areas that may lead to a recovery of function. It provides valuable insights and improves the chances of successful rehabilitation.

Monitoring recovery progress

This tool is meant to be used multiple times to observe patient state alterations. This continuous evaluation can monitor advancements or regressions in functionality, providing timely information that can impact treatment choices and conversations with family.

Enhanced communication

The CRS-R follows a standardized format, making it easier for healthcare providers to communicate clearly and consistently. This is important for multidisciplinary teams working in complex clinical environments; it ensures that everyone is updated regularly on a patient's status and progress. 

Research and clinical trials

The tool is extensively employed in clinical studies aimed at assessing the effectiveness of various treatments and interventions for individuals suffering from severe brain injuries. The tool's standardized methodology enables researchers to gather comparable data across multiple study sites and patient groups.

Support for decision-making

The scale provides data that can assist healthcare providers and families in making informed care and management decisions. This can include difficult choices such as whether to continue life-sustaining treatments or focus on palliative care.

Educational tool

The CRS-R can be a valuable educational tool for medical students, residents, and other healthcare professionals studying managing patients with severe brain injuries. These professionals can learn a systematic approach to evaluating consciousness and improving their clinical skills in neurology and rehabilitation medicine.

How are recovering coma patients treated?

The treatment of patients recovering from a coma involves a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach, integrating various therapeutic strategies and assessments to address physical, cognitive, and emotional recovery. Management often relies on structured clinical protocols incorporating a hierarchy of therapeutic goals and monitoring using specific rating scales. 

Initial assessment and stabilization

Upon emerging from a coma, patients are assessed using diagnostic criteria and rating scales to determine their cognitive, motor, and sensory capabilities. Tools like the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) and the Coma Recovery Scale-Revised (CRS-R) are employed to categorize patient responses in a structured manner, reflecting their level of consciousness and neurological function.

Physical medicine and rehabilitation

Physical therapy is a core component to prevent muscle atrophy and contractures, improve motor function, and enhance overall physical health. The treatment plan is often categorized using a rating scale that reflects the severity and type of physical limitations, guiding the required intensity and type of interventions.

Cognitive and behavioral therapy

As patients progress, cognitive rehabilitation is introduced to address deficits in memory, attention, or problem-solving skills. Therapists use category-based rating scales to measure cognitive improvement and align therapy with the patient's specific needs, adjusting strategies as the patient progresses through different cognitive recovery categories.

Speech and communication therapy

For those facing difficulties with communication, speech therapists employ structured rating scales to categorize speech and language abilities, providing targeted interventions to improve communication skills based on the patient’s current category level.

Nutritional and medical management

Nutritional support and ongoing medical care are adjusted according to the severity and specific needs of the patient, often guided by rating scales that categorize nutritional status and medical complexity. This structured approach ensures that each patient’s medical and dietary needs are met appropriately, reflecting their overall health status and recovery trajectory.

Regular monitoring and reassessment

The recovery process is monitored through regular reassessments using the same structured rating scales, allowing healthcare providers to track progress and adjust treatment plans. This ensures that the therapeutic interventions are aligned with the evolving needs of the patient as they progress through different categories of recovery.

Family and caregiver support

Education and support for families and caregivers are crucial, as they provide knowledge on managing care at home, understanding the recovery process, and effectively communicating with healthcare providers. Training often includes understanding the rating scale categories and what they indicate about the patient’s abilities and needs.

Each aspect of treatment is operationalized through specific rating scales and categories, which not only help in measuring the patient's current status but also in predicting outcomes and planning further interventions. 

This structured approach ensures that all aspects of the patient's recovery are addressed coherently and organized, reflecting clinical consensus and best practices in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

What is a comatose-like state?
What is a comatose-like state?

Commonly asked questions

What is a comatose-like state?

A comatose-like state is a deep state of unconsciousness where a person cannot be awakened, fails to respond typically to painful stimuli, light, or sound, lacks a normal wake-sleep cycle, and does not initiate voluntary actions.

What is the comatose stage?

The comatose stage is a clinical condition of deep unconsciousness from which a person cannot be aroused or awakened, resulting from illness, brain injury, or other medical issues. A lack of awareness and response to external stimuli characterizes it.

What are the levels of comatose?

Comatose levels can vary from light (where some reflex actions may be present and eye-opening can occur spontaneously) to deep (no reflex responses to pain, no spontaneous movements, and no eye-opening).

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