Even Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries Create Observable Brain Damage
The common concussion is typically thought to be of little risk, but a new study published in Neurology shows that even mild traumatic brain injury can cause brain damage, including thinking and memory problems.
The study evaluated 44 people with a mild traumatic brain injury and nine people with moderate traumatic brain injury and compared their results to 33 people with no documented brain injury.
All participants underwent thinking and memory tests, while having diffusion tensor imaging scans – a type of highly sensitive MRI scan which can detect damage to brain cells.
The people with brain injuries were scanned an average of six days after their injury. A year later, 23 of those individuals then underwent a second set of cognitive tests and scans.
The researchers found that compared to the people with no brain injury, those with injuries had damage in brain white matter consisting of disruption to nerve axons, which allow brain cells to transmit messages to each other. The results also show that scores on a verbal letter fluency task, a test of thinking, and memory skills, were 25 percent lower in people with a brain injury compared to healthy individuals.
“Most of the studies thus far have focused on people with severe and chronic traumatic brain injury,” said study author Andrew Blamire, Ph.D., of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “We studied patients who had suffered clinically mild injuries, often from common accidents, such as falling from a bicycle, or slow speed car accidents.
“This finding is especially important, as 90 percent of all traumatic brain injuries are mild to moderate.”
A year later, the scores were notably more even between those with and without brain injuries, however the researchers were still able to observe areas of brain damage in people with injuries.
“These results show that thinking skills were recovering over time,” Blamire said. “The areas of brain damage were not as widespread across the brain as previously, but focused in certain areas of the brain, which could indicate that the brain was compensating for the injuries.”
As I leave my teenage years and begin the study of psychology in college, I am learning a lot about my life, my family, and some of my friends that I would never have pieced together before. I have always questioned why people behave as they do, but without the understanding of the psychology of the brain that has been gained through my very first summer class of college, I would have never related my questions with changes in behavior to brain damage or injuries in people that I have known most of my life. It is clear now, and as I search for data to support my conclusions, that there are a whole lot of brain injuries that happen daily and result in altering, and most of the time ruining, a person’s life that are never diagnosed or treated. It a makes sense now, but at the same time puzzles me about why we are just learning these things with all the medical and technical knowledge swarming around out there.
I am a hockey player. I have been hit hard and had several concussions. I have headaches and mood swings, trouble concentrating and sensitivity to light. I never knew why or related the two. I have several friends and teammates that have been hit hard many times, been in accidents; my grandmother was even hit with a fly baseball at a little league game. Each of these people have gone through extreme changes in their behavior, habits, and very noticeably memory and cognition skills.
I read an article today that stated as of a July 2014 study, 50% of all youths ages 16-18 jailed in New York have suffered a traumatic brain injury. At the same time a Canadian article states that 40% of their incarcerated population have brain injuries. Another study states that 40% of all homeless men have TBI, that 87% had homes and work prior to the injury, and that 70% of those injured were injured while still in their teenage years.
This, to me, is an epidemic issue that is in serious need of help and support among our medical, legal, and judicial systems and government. With the numbers of total people affected estimated at 20% at some point in their lifetime, I believe that more study and education should be invested into the issue to inform everyone of what is happening, and to acknowledge the need of medical and psychological help instead of just throwing people in jail for making a bad decision while their brain is not capable of making a better one due to injury at the time. We know, for sure, that the brain will restructure and help heal itself, for most all of the 20% affected, and estimates are that less than 2% are permanently disabling.
I think that something must be done to become a proactive champion for the treatment and help of those who suffer these injuries, and that the medical, legal, and education systems should be trained to support the rebuilding of these brains that are temporarily suffering setbacks in cognition and performance. We can deal with it when it happens and most probably fix it, or we can not fix it and deal with it the rest of their lives as a society, just as we do today….looking the other way at the homeless and judging those in jail.