The May 2011 issue of Reader's Digest (PDF format) had an interesting article entitled "The Brain Fixers," which profiled the way three "regular" people are changing the way that scientists, the military and pro sports deal with traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Scientists and doctors have begun to realize that athletes, especially football and hockey players, who continually take collisions to the head and hits on the field and ice, may suffer lasting damage. Multiple concussions, even small, unoticed concussions, can have a cummulative effect on brain tissue, sometimes causing post-concussion syndrome, dementa and crippling depression. Young developing brains can be very vulnerable to second-impact syndrome - if there's a minor jolt or impact before the first concussion has healed, the second blow can be extremely damaging or fatal.
Repeated impacts can cause a condition that scientists and doctors are just beginning to get their heads around: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Athletes affected by this condition suffer from not only physical effects such as extreme headaches but mental effects as well: extreme mood swings, depression, mania. The despair from CTE has led more than a few athletes to commit suicide - some actually requesting that their brain be examined after death for this disease.
This brain disease now been found in athletes with no concussions.
CTE has made its way to the headlines in some really unfortunate and sad cases, and now, has found its way to the courtroom. Seventy five former NFL players have filed a suit against the league in Los Angeles Superior Court in mid-July 2011 alleging that the League has covered up the effects of multiple concussions for decades.
Athletes aren't the only ones susceptible to major damage. Anyone hitting their head in a car accident, a fall or other accident may suffer a traumatic brain injury without the blow even leaving a bruise. Dr. Douglas Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania explains what scientists think happens just after a blow to the head such as in a car accident:
- In the first few seconds, nerve fibers can snap and sodium ions rush in - the brain can short circuit temporarily, sometimes resulting in loss of consciousness.
- Over the next hours and few days, the damage sets in. Damaged nerve fibers die, making it harder for the brain to work. Surviving nerves will eventually renew themselves but scientists think those nerves remain vulnerable to another impact.
- Over the long term: Symptoms from damaged brain nerves may not reveal themselves under normal conditions but might appear in the form of depression, memory loss, and early-onset dementia as the aging process occurs, or if under stress. (Taken from Reader's Digest, May 2011 interview with Dr. Douglas Smith, M.D.).
Clients who have suffered head injuries from serious car accident or falls don't usually suffer from CTE but the risk of damage from one or more impacts to the head cannot be underestimated. Scientists and doctors are beginning to note the unseen trauma from even one blow to the head.