The Glasgow Coma Scale is a handy tool that every EMT needs to know. However, it’s quite a long test to commit to memory. Luckily, a useful mnemonic can help you memorize the GCS quickly and effectively.
Read this guide to find out what the GCS is, how you can learn it, and use it when you’re treating a patient with brain injuries.
What Is the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS)?
The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is a test doctors and EMTs use to determine the severity of a patient’s brain injury. The GCS consists of three tests:
- Eye test: examining the patient’s eye responses.
- Verbal test: examining the patient’s verbal responses to questions.
- Motor test: examining the patient’s ability to move on command.
Once you administer the test, you can create a score based on the patient’s responses.
Why Use a Mnemonic to Remember the GCS
Mnemonic devices are a series of letters that help you associate a longer-form piece of information. Using a mnemonic device makes remembering the exact test and patient response value easier.
In the case of the Glasgow Coma Scale, you only need to remember three words for the three tests:
- EYES for the eye test
- VOICE for the verbal test
- OLD BEN for the motor test
How Do You Calculate GCS?
The GCS score is a simple addition. Each type of response has an attached number value. Once you identify the scores of all three tests, you simply add them together.
The final score of the scale goes from 3 to 15. 3 means severe brain injury, and 15 means the patient has normal brain function.
GCS Mnemonic Eye Exam: EYES
An easy way to remember the eye test part of GCS is with the mnemonic “EYES”. While the “Y” takes a little bit of imagination, the rest of this memory device is pretty straightforward.
GCS Mnemonic Verbal Exam: VOICE
When you’re conducting the verbal exam part of traumatic brain injury treatment, you have to listen to their “VOICE”.
GCS Mnemonic Motor Exam: OLD BEN
Notice how the GCS mnemonic in the motor exam goes in descending order. Unlike “EYES” and “VOICE”, the first letter of “OLD BEN” is the highest score on the scale.
Final GCS Score Meanings
You may have noticed that the lowest score on the GCS is 3 instead of 0. This is an important aspect of the coma scale to remember.
Once you examine all three test responses, you need to add the score of these together to come up with the final number.
What do the final GCS scores mean?
- GCS Score 3-8: severe brain injury
- GCS Score 9-12: moderate brain injury
- GCS Score 12-15: mild brain injury
The next question is, how do you treat a patient as an EMT once you determine their GCS scores?
The answer is more complicated than you think.
EMT-Bs cannot intubate patients. Only qualified paramedics and those of higher qualifications can intubate.
EMTs can transport patients who score 12-15 on the GCS. If they need to transport a patient with a more severe brain injury they need to upgrade to an ALS (advanced life support) vehicle and crew.
For paramedics, the motto for brain injury treatment used to be: “Less than 8? Intubate!”. It rhymes, which makes it easy to remember.
However, the GCS isn’t the only measurement you need to take into account when you’re treating someone in an emergency. Someone who gets a 9 on GCS may have a greater need for intubation than someone who scored 7.
Check the patient for airway obstruction, and make a decision based on specific circumstances.
Learn More EMT Skills with Elite Ambulance
GCS may be a long test to remember. However, a mnemonic device can help you commit to memory in no time. And when it comes time to use it, you can rely on “EYES”, “VOICE”, and “OLD BEN” to help you save a patient’s life.
We love to teach future EMTs through fun and engaging classes. If you’d like to learn more about emergency medicine, join Elite Ambulance’s training courses!
We provide you with the skills and knowledge to start working as an EMT, and make a career out of saving lives.
Become a first responder today with Elite Ambulance!
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