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CARSON, CA – AUGUST 03: Bronze medal winner Dave Mirra speaks in a press conference after the Rally Car race during the summer X Games 14 at Home Depot Center on August 3, 2008 in Carson, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Months after committing suicide, Dave Mirra has become the first action sports athlete to be diagnosed with CTE

by Robert Silverman, vocativ.com (May 24, 2016)
 
After BMX biking legend Dave Mirra committed suicide on February 4 of this year, his wife had his brain tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Sadly, the result came back positive, rife with tau proteins dotting both his temporal and frontal lobes after years of enduring an unknown amount of concussive and sub-concussive trauma. This makes Mirra the first action sports athlete to be diagnosed with CTE.

The neuropathologist went so far as to equate the condition of his brain to that of NFL players and other contact sport athletes that have been posthumously diagnosed with the disease. “I couldn’t tell the difference,” Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati said.

In an exclusive interview with ESPN: The Magazine, Mirra’s wife Lauren describes the agonizing final weeks of his life, the transformation of his formerly vibrant personality into something different and darker, prone to wild mood swings and unprovoked crying jags or bouts of exhaustion, his mind clouded and wracked with depression.

“I remember seeing him sitting on our bed one day, in the last month of his life,” she said. “I had just gotten out of the shower and saw him hunched over with the blankest lost look. I sat down next to him and held his hand. I said, ‘What is wrong? Are you OK?’ And he just shrugged his shoulders. He couldn’t even speak. He didn’t know. He couldn’t put it into words. He was lost. He was helpless. It was completely different from who he was.”

“He was gone. I could see straight through him,” she continued. “It was the hardest thing to see, looking at someone you love, and you can’t have a conversation with them, and you can see straight through their eyes.”

Lauren Mirra doesn’t know what her exact plans might be for the future, but her overarching hope is that she’ll be able to find a forum in which to speak out, to encourage best practices and prevention measures, without coming across as an ideologue out to ban action sports altogether.

“Through him we have an opportunity to help and change,” she said. “Beauty from ashes. That’s how I will always choose to see it.”

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The Cohen family partners with USC to serve families in Los Angeles.
 
by Lynn Lipinski, tfm.USC.edu (Autumn 2016) — PEACE AFTER WAR can be elusive for combat veterans who fight painful memories long after they’ve left the battlefield. Of the more than 2.6 million men and women who have served in the U.S. military since 9/11, about 20 percent experience some form of post-traumatic stress or brain injury—but nearly half forego treatment, according to the Cohen Veterans Network.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at USC, made possible by a $15.7 million gift from Steven Cohen and the Cohen Veterans Network, offers veterans and their family members free outpatient mental health services and case management. Recently opened in downtown Los Angeles, the Cohen Military Family Clinic at USC is part of a national network of clinics serving veterans and is a collaboration between the USC School of Social Work and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Providers will also be stationed at locations throughout the county in areas that otherwise lack these types of services. The clinic will also serve veterans who are ineligible for Veterans’ Admnistration benefits, such as those who served in the National Guard or the Reserves.

“The wounds of war are serious. It is not easy to serve your country in combat overseas and then come back into society seamlessly, especially if you are suffering,” says Cohen, chairman and CEO of Point72 Asset Management. “Veterans have paid an incredible price. It’s important that this country pays back that debt.”

The Cohen Veterans Network plans to create a system of about two dozen centers across the country by 2020 as part of a $275 million initiative to improve access to behavioral health care for recent veterans. Cohen’s support of services for veterans began in part because of a personal connection: His son, Robert, deployed to Afghanistan with the Marines and is currently in the Reserves.

USC’s strong programs for veterans made it a natural fit to host the clinic. The USC School of Social Work is home to the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, where researchers conducted the first comprehensive study of veterans in L.A. County. Their findings are already helping to create effective services for veterans. The school has also earned national recognition for its pioneering master’s degree in military social work—the only program of its kind offered by a civilian research university.

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By John Prybys, LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL (August 22, 2016) — Randy Dexter and Captain are more than just dog owner and dog. That’s obvious from the way Captain looks for Dexter whenever the Army veteran leaves the room, and the way the Lab mix’s demeanor slips instantly from playful to dead serious once he’s wearing the jacket that denotes his status as a service animal.

Dexter is a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant who did two tours of duty in Iraq. He was diagnosed with both post-traumatic stress disorder and a mild traumatic brain injury, and the story of Dexter and Captain is featured in a new awareness campaign urging veterans and military service people to seek help for traumatic brain injury if they need it.

The campaign, “A Head for the Future,” is sponsored by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. In his video, Dexter shares the struggles he has experienced coping with his injuries and the reluctance he felt at first to seek help for it.

But, he says, “I was lucky, because when I was in the Army and had my head injury, I was kind of forced to get help.”

Dexter, 34, is a graduate of Green Valley High School who served in the Army for 11 years and had two tours of duty in Iraq. In 2005, Dexter, a combat medic, and his squad were hit by an IED, prompting a long, and continuing, struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Then, after returning home and while still being treated for PTSD and training soldiers bound for Iraq and Afghanistan, Dexter suffered a brain injury during a recreational football game. He’s not sure, even now, what happened. All he knows is that he lost the memory of about 24 hours’ time and, even, of going to the game at all.

X-rays and imaging studies revealed no skull fractures or apparent injuries. But, afterward, Dexter experienced a worsening of already existing problems with his memory, concentration and equilibrium, and began to suffer migraines and severe, debilitating headaches that eventually compounded his PTSD and caused severe depression.

Dr. Scott Livingston, director of education for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center in Silver Springs, Maryland, says symptoms of PTSD and brain injury often can overlap, making diagnosis a challenge. And when a brain injury does occur, he says, it often presents with no obvious symptoms that can be detected by X-ray or imaging scans.

In such cases, the problem likely is “more of a microscopic type of injury within the brain,” Livingston says.

Most civilians probably assume that brain injuries among service people are caused mostly by blasts and blunt-force trauma to the head. Yet, Livingston says, most are caused by motor vehicle collisions, training-related accidents, falls and sports and recreational activities.

Whatever the cause, military personnel are reluctant to report an injury or seek care for it. The current campaign is designed to raise awareness of brain injuries among service people, promote ways to prevent it when possible, and encourage men and women to report it and get it checked out, Livingston says.

“It’s well-known in scientific literature that the earlier someone reports a mild traumatic brain injury and goes to seek help, the better the chances are for better and more complete recovery,” he says.

During his treatment, Dexter participated in a program that paired injured veterans with service dogs. His experience with a dog named Ricochet was so good that he later welcomed the chance to be paired with Captain.

Dexter and Captain are a great team. Dexter says the dog can detect impending anxiety attacks even before he does, and that the dog can serve as a physical shield and protector in such public places as big-box retail stores, which can be particularly unnerving places for those with PTSD.

The true test of Captain’s effectiveness is that the dog has allowed Dexter to significantly reduce the medications he has to take. Today, it would be difficult for someone who doesn’t know the back story to detect Dexter’s struggles with traumatic brain injury, and it was his own previous interest in speaking out publicly about his conditions that led to his participation in the new awareness campaign.

Dexter now attends UNLV, where he’s majoring in communication studies and Spanish. He has been active on the debate teams, will be a peer adviser for other veterans, and hopes to kick off a music show on the university’s HD/internet radio station.

Dexter hopes his video and his story will help to persuade other veterans and active service people to seek out help for PTSD and brain injury. That can be difficult, he notes, because the standard soldier’s stance is that, whatever is happening, “you just deal with it, and that’s true across the whole military culture.”

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By Alyssa Navarro, Tech Times (August 23, 2016) — Federal health regulators in the United States approved on Monday the use of two new computer softwares as cognitive screening tests for traumatic head injury patients.

Known as ImPACT or the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT), the new testing device, as well as a similar test designed for children, can be used by doctors to evaluate signs and symptoms of head injuries that could indicate concussion.

ImPACT is designed for patients aged 12 to 59 years old, while ImPACT Pediatric is intended for children aged 5 to 11 years old, officials said. Licensed health care professionals are the only ones allowed to perform the analysis and interpret the results.

The software can be accessed easily because it runs on both desktop computers and laptops, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both tests the first ever devices permitted by the FDA to assess cognitive function after experiencing a possible concussion. They are designed to be part of medical evaluations in hospitals.

Although ImPACT and ImPACT Pediatric will definitely be useful for doctors, both tests are not meant to diagnose concussions or determine treatments that are appropriate for such cases, the FDA said.

Instead, both devices are only designed to test cognitive skills such as reaction time, memory and word recognition. All of these can be impacted by head injuries. Afterwards, the results are compared to a patient’s pre-injury baseline scores or an age-matched control database, the FDA said.

Dr. Carlos Peña, director of the neurological and physical medicine division at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, acknowledges that the two testing devices can provide useful information that can aid doctors in the evaluation of people who are experiencing potential signs of concussion.

However, Peña says that clinicians should not completely depend on the tests alone to rule out concussion or to decide whether a player with a head injury should return to a game.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that traumatic brain injuries are responsible for more than 2 million visits to the emergency room in the country annually. Traumatic brain injuries also account for more than 50,000 deaths in America every year.

Cases of head injury among kids have been increasing. In May, a CDC report showed that from January 2001 to December 2013, approximately 214,883 children aged 14 years old and below were brought to emergency departments due to head injuries.

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When a person has a stroke, blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing brain cells to die within minutes due to lack of oxygen. In some cases, this can result in paralysis, speech and language problems, vision problems, and memory loss. But in a new study, researchers have shown that stem cell therapy increases nerve cell production in mice with brain damage due to stroke.

by Marie Ellis, MedicalNewsToday.com (August 22, 2016) — The researchers – led by Berislav Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Southern California (USC) – publish their findings in the journal Nature Medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and is also a major cause of disability in adults.

The effects of a stroke depend on the location of the blockage and how much brain tissue is involved, but a stroke on one side of the brain will result in neurological effects on the opposite side of the body.

For example, a stroke on the right side of the brain could produce paralysis on the left side of the body, and vice versa.

A stroke in the brain stem can affect both sides of the body and could leave the patient in a so-called locked-in state, where the patient is unable to speak or move the body below the neck.

Given that about 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year, the researchers of this latest study wanted to investigate potential therapies.

Therapy is a combination of two methods

The researchers say their therapy is a combination of two methods. One involves surgically grafting human neural stem cells onto the damaged area, where they are able to mature into neurons and other brain cells.

The other therapy uses a compound called 3K3A-APC, which has been shown to help neural stem cells that have been grown in a petri dish grow into neurons. But the researchers say it was not clear what effect the molecule – called activated protein-C (APC) – would have on live animals.

As such, the team used mice for their experiment, and they found that a month after inducing stroke-like brain damage in the mice, those that had received both the stem cells and 3K3A-APC performed much better on motor and sensory function tests, compared with mice that received only one of the treatments or neither.

The researchers also observed that the mice given 3K3A-APC had more stem cells survive and mature into neurons.

But how did the researchers induce stroke-like brain damage in the mice? They disrupted blood flow to a specific brain area.

Then, 1 week later, which is the mouse equivalent of several months in humans, the researchers inserted the stem cells next to the dead tissue and administered either a placebo or 3K3A-APC.

“When you give these mice 3K3A-APC, it works much better than stem cells alone,” says Dr. Zlokovic. “We showed that 3K3A-APC helps the cells convert into neurons and make structural and functional connections with the host’s nervous system.”

‘No one in the stroke field has ever shown this’

The researchers also looked at the connections between the neurons that grew from the stem cells in the damaged brain region and nerve cells in the primary motor cortex.

The team found that the mice given the stem cells and 3K3A-APC had more neuronal connections – synapses – that linked those areas, compared with the mice given the placebo.

Then, when the researchers stimulated the mice’s paws with a vibration, the neurons that grew from the stem cells exhibited a stronger response in the mice that were treated.

“That means the transplanted cells are being functionally integrated into the host’s brain after treatment with 3K3A-APC. No one in the stroke field has ever shown this, so I believe this is going to be the gold standard for future studies.” ~Dr. Berislav Zlokovic

Following on from this study, the researchers want to pursue another phase II clinical trial to examine whether the treatment combination can encourage the growth of new neurons in human stroke patients to improve function.

They say that if that trial is successful, it could be possible to test the therapy’s effects on other conditions, including spinal cord injuries.

“This USC-led animal study could pave the way for a potential breakthrough in how we treat people who have experienced a stroke,” says Jim Koenig, Ph.D., program director at the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), who funded the study.

“If the therapy works in humans,” he adds, “it could markedly accelerate the recovery of these patients.”

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UCSF Researchers Advocate Prioritizing Teens for Education and Prevention

by Scott Maier (August 17, 2016) — The number of Americans diagnosed with concussions is growing, most significantly in adolescents, according to researchers at UC San Francisco. They recommend that adolescents be prioritized for ongoing work in concussion education, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

The findings appear online August 16, 2016, in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

“Our study evaluated a large cross-section of the U.S. population,” said lead author Alan Zhang, MD, UCSF Health orthopaedic surgeon. “We were surprised to see that the increase in concussion cases over the past few years mainly were from adolescent patients aged 10 to 19.”

Concussions are a form of mild traumatic brain injury resulting in transient functional and biochemical changes in the brain. They can lead to time lost from sports, work and school, as well as significant medical costs.

Though symptoms resolve in most concussion patients within weeks, some patients’ symptoms last for months, including depression, headache, dizziness and fogginess. Neuroimaging and neuropathological studies also suggest there may be chronic structural abnormalities in the brain following multiple concussions.

Recent studies have shown an increase in traumatic brain injuries diagnosed in many U.S. emergency departments. Smaller cohort studies of pediatric and high school athletes also have indicated a rise in concussions for certain sports, such as football and girls’ soccer. However, this is the first study to assess trends in concussion diagnoses across the general U.S. population in various age groups.

In this study, Zhang and his colleagues evaluated the health records of 8,828,248 members of Humana Inc., a large private payer insurance group. Patients under age 65 who were diagnosed with a concussion between 2007-2014 were categorized by year of diagnosis, age group, sex, concussion classification, and health care setting of diagnosis (emergency department or physician’s office).

Overall, 43,884 patients were diagnosed with a concussion, with 55 percent being male. The highest incidence was in the 15-19 age group at 16.5 concussions per 1,000 patients, followed by ages 10-14 at 10.5, 20-24 at 5.2 and 5-9 at 3.5.

The study found that 56 percent of concussions were diagnosed in the emergency department, 29 percent in a physician’s office, and the remainder in urgent care or inpatient settings. As such, outpatient clinicians should have the same confidence and competence to manage concussion cases as emergency physicians, Zhang said.

A 60 percent increase in concussions occurred from 2007 to 2014 (3,529 to 8,217), with the largest growth in ages 10-14 at 143 percent and 15-19 at 87 percent. Based on classification, 29 percent of concussions were associated with some loss of consciousness.

A possible explanation for the significant number of adolescent concussions is increased participation in sports, said Zhang, MD, who is also assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at UCSF. It also may be reflective of an improved awareness for the injury by patients, parents, coaches, sports medical staff and treating physicians.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “HEADS UP” initiative has caused numerous states such as California to alter guidelines for youth concussion treatment.

Many medical centers also are establishing specialty clinics to address this, which could be contributing to the increased awareness. At UCSF, the Sports Concussion Program evaluates and treats athletes who have suffered a sports-related concussion. The team includes experts from sports medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, neuropsychology and neurology. Their combined expertise allows for evaluation, diagnosis and management of athletes with sports concussions, helping them safely recover and return to sports.

Other UCSF orthopaedic surgery contributors to the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine study were senior author Carlin Senter, MD, associate professor; Brian Feeley, MD, associate professor; Caitlin Rugg, MD, resident; and David Sing, clinical research associate.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences; and a preeminent biomedical research enterprise. It also includes UCSF Health, which comprises two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, and other partner and affiliated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the Bay Area.

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Award recognizes outstanding work in the area of human intelligence

ARLINGTON, TEXAS (July 5, 2016) — The Mensa Foundation presented its Laura Joyner Award to the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation for their work in improving the quality of life for brain injury survivors and their families living in San Diego County. The award was presented at The Foundation’s annual Colloquium held at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center.

According to the SDBIF’s website, every 23 seconds someone suffers a brain injury in the United States. In San Diego, 11,000 people annually are affected by traumatic brain injury. Although there are many medical facilities that help with the initial diagnosis and treatment, SDBIF addresses long-term needs by providing resources including free educational meetings, a brain injury guide, and a hotline with referral and support group information. Foundation Trustee Eldon Romney presented the award to SDBIF’s executive staff members, Stephanie Bidegain and Susan Hansen at the event.
# # #
For more than 40 years, the Mensa Education and Research Foundation has been a strong voice in supporting intelligence. The Foundation fosters the best and brightest through scholarships and awards, and encourages research and intellectual inquiry through the Mensa Research Journal and various Colloquiums. Governed by a volunteer Board of Trustees, the Mensa Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization and is funded by American Mensa, Mensa members and other charitable donations. To learn more about the Foundation, visit mensafoundation.org.

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LOUDON, N.H. (AP), (July 16, 2016) – He was one of NASCAR’s first superstars, but Fred Lorenzen’s memories of his Hall of Fame career have dimmed as he battles dementia. His Daytona 500 victory, the wins he piled up to become NASCAR’s first $100,000 driver, his life on the road, all have been largely extinguished.

Lorenzen still has flickering moments when he remembers the days when he was NASCAR’s “Golden Boy” for his rugged, movie-star looks. Like in recent years, when he visits Chicago Speedway, not far from his assisted living facility.

“His face just lights up when he’s there,” said his daughter, Amanda Lorenzen Gardstrom.

Nearly 45 years after his last Cup race, Lorenzen hoped he would still make his mark on the NASCAR community. Inspired by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s decision to pledge his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Lorenzen became the second known driver to make the same decision.

Gardstrom made it official Friday with a pledge to Legacy co-founder Chris Nowinski. As auto racing grapples with the issue of concussions and head trauma, one of NASCAR’s pioneers is now alongside Earnhardt in the donation queue.

“As a family, we decided we wanted to support Dale Junior and all work together toward a healthy future for these drivers,” she told The Associated Press.

Earnhardt’s concussion history – he missed two races in 2012 – spurred his decision to pledge his brain to the Legacy, a group that works with Boston University on research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease that doctors believe is caused by repeated blows to the head.

Gardstrom is convinced the 81-year-old Lorenzen has CTE as a result from years of brutal wrecks and hits from the 1960s, one of the most dangerous eras in racing history. Lorenzen won the Daytona 500 in 1965.

“He never stopped to heal,” she said.

She wants to help, and knows her father does, too, and advance the understanding of concussions and their treatment in NASCAR.

“It’s the younger generation that we really need to educate,” she said. “They’re young, they’re hungry, but when they get in a wreck and get a concussion, they know if they don’t get back in the car, someone else is going to take it. We want to change the culture of the sport.”

Earnhardt has become the face of concussion awareness in sports and will skip Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because of concussion symptoms. There is no timetable on when NASCAR’s most popular driver might return.

The 41-year-old Earnhardt had already intended to be an organ donor, so he said in April that giving up his brain made sense. Earnhardt said he was motivated by reading about three former Oakland Raiders who donated their brains in honor of teammate Ken Stabler. The quarterback’s brain showed signs of CTE.

“I think the protocols and the advances that we have made in trying to protect ourselves are great things,” Earnhardt said at his pledge announcement. “I’m excited about what NASCAR has done. They have really taken this head on.”

Gardstrom felt the same sense of motivation when she read about Earnhardt’s pledge. She said Lorenzen, inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, first showed signs of dementia about a decade ago. He has memory loss and uses a wheelchair at Oak Brook Healthcare in Illinois.

The Elmhurst, Illinois, native was one of NASCAR’s first stars to hail from outside the sport’s Southern roots.

“The hardest part right now is that his racing memories are starting to go,” Gardstrom said. “That was the one thing that was really wonderful, to connect and see him light up when he talked about racing.”

She’d like to see others in the sport talk more about concussions.

“That hasn’t necessarily been a hot topic of conversation in any of our meetings,” Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch said.

Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was part of a 54-member panel that picked Lorenzen for induction into the hall. Johnson has yet to consider donating his brain to the Legacy.

“I am an organ donor so it wouldn’t bother me to do that, but it’s something I’ve not taken steps in and have not discussed at all,” he said.

In the 15 years since Dale Earnhardt’s death at the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR introduced a series of measures designed to keep drivers safe, from helmet and restraint systems to impact-absorbing barriers along concrete walls, all designed to cushion high-impact blows.

NASCAR also mandated in 2013 that drivers submit to baseline neurocognitive assessment. When a driver in NASCAR can’t return his damaged car to the garage, a trip to the care center is required. Under a new three-step process, a driver showing any indication of a head injury must go immediately to a hospital. Concussed drivers must be cleared by an independent neurologist or neurosurgeon before they can get back in a race car.

Gardstrom wants NASCAR to take even more steps.

“We don’t have to wait until more drivers’ brains are studied to make a better concussion protocol,” she said.

Former athletes in other sports have sued their leagues, contending the risks of concussions were hidden from them so they could return to competition. Gardstrom has no interest in a lawsuit.

“No money is going to bring my dad back, but what my goal now is, is to make sure the NASCAR family doesn’t have to go through the similar things we’re going through now,” she said.

Lorenzen hasn’t been forgotten by today’s racing stars – they appreciate a driver who won 26 times in the Cup series. Tony Stewart introduced Lorenzen at his hall induction. Jeff Gordon leaned in for a chat with “Fearless Freddie” last year at Chicagoland before the race.

“He was such a humble guy, that I don’t think he ever realized what an impact he had on the sport,” Gardstrom said.

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1st Lt. Timothy Dwyer performs a cognitive test, as occupational therapist Jenny Owens takes notes at the Fort Campbell Army base in Fort Campbell, Ky. Soldiers from the Army’s 52nd Ordnance Group based at Fort Campbell have undergone hours of exhaustive cognitive testing in the military’s first-of-its-kind study of mild traumatic brain injury.

Military is doing first-of-its-kind study on mild traumatic brain injury

by Kristin M. Hall, Associated Press

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Motivated by the deaths of two friends in war-zone explosions, 1st Lt. Timothy Dwyer decided to become a bomb hunter.

By joining an explosive ordnance disposal unit, Dwyer put himself at a high risk not just of being killed, but of falling victim to another, more insidious threat: repeated concussions from blasts that don’t kill.

Soldiers from the Army’s 52nd Ordnance Group based at Fort Campbell have undergone hours of exhaustive cognitive testing in the military’s first-of-its-kind study of mild traumatic brain injury. This focus on the soldiers who find and destroy the powerful and deadly weapons is part of a larger effort by the military this year to better track and treat mild brain injuries.

The Fort Campbell bomb specialists will be tracked during their upcoming Afghanistan deployment for concussions and head injuries to look for effects on brain functions.

“No one wants to get hurt, but being a soldier, being (in explosive ordnance disposal), it’s just one of those things you’ve come to expect that might happen to you,” said Dwyer, a 23-year-old platoon leader with three kids who is leaving this year for his first deployment.

The nature of the ordnance group’s work makes its members the ideal patients for the study of mild brain injuries, said Dr. Bret Logan, deputy commander for managed care and compliance at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell.

“We tried to identify those populations that we could have almost an assured likelihood that they would have a concussive episode,” Logan said.

Active in high school sports, Dwyer said he’d had at least three diagnosed concussions before joining the Army. In addition to those, Dwyer admitted, “I’ve had a lot of concussions that I have never gone to the doctor for.”

During the testing, the soldiers are subjected to numerous mental exercises and given puzzles and quizzes that give a baseline of a soldier’s brain functions before an injury. One test required Dwyer to quickly press a series of blinking lights while doing math problems in his head. In another, he was asked to recall a list of words that he was given earlier.

Dr. Tamara Moreland, a physical therapist at the Traumatic Brain Injury Center at Fort Campbell, instructed Dwyer to stand on a platform that shifted and rocked under him. The test measured how well his inner ear works to keep his balance, an area of common injury after explosions.

In a small office at the post’s center, another EOD officer, 1st Lt. Jay Park, was fitted with what looked like a swim cap with electrodes jutting out and clips on his ears. Cotton balls taped over his eyes reduced eye movement during the testing, and wires from the cap plugged into a computer that measured activity in different parts of his brain.

178,000 soldiers diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries since 2000
The Department of Defense says 178,000 troops have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries since 2000, mostly mild Fortcases. Even those can have wide-ranging effects on concentration, speech, balance and eyesight.

The Army released new rules this year for soldiers who are within 50 meters of a blast, are in a vehicle that rolls over or are in a vehicle involved in a blast. Those soldiers now must undergo a medical evaluation and be put on 24 hours of rest before returning to duty. Comprehensive evaluations will be mandatory after three concussions in one year.

Studies have shown that a person can fully recover after a concussion, but another concussion without time to rest can impair healing.

“The brain is using a lot of energy to heal, and if you stress the brain so that it runs out of energy, it’s actually going to cause death of neurons,” said Dr. David Twillie, director of Fort Campbell’s Traumatic Brain Injury Center.

Twillie said he understands that some soldiers will not want to take a break from the fighting after a concussion, but he said the rest will keep more soldiers ready for battle.

“You can actually conserve the fighting strength by having a soldier take a knee versus breaking the soldier to the point where they won’t be able to return,” he said.

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