Traumatic Brain Injuries - New Research
The Human Brain
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain, and it can be very serious. There is a huge amount of research taking place at this time to try to prevent head injuries for our troops, football players, lacrosse players, skiers and motorcycle enthusiasts, to name just a few.
The human skull is designed to protect the brain and our air passages, as there are 22 bones in the cranium and another 14 facial bones. In addition, between the skin and the bone there is a layer of tissue called the periosteum. Under the bone is the dura matter, which is where you find veins; then, there is the pia layer where you find the arteries. As you can see the brain is well protected, however, traumatic brain injuries continue to occur.
Layer of Protection for the Human Brain
National Traumatic Brain Injury Estimates
- Each year, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually.1
- TBI is a contributing factor to a third (30.5%) of all injury-related deaths in the United States.1
- About 75% of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild TBI.
- Children aged 0 to 4 years, older adolescents aged 15 to 19 years, and adults aged 65 years and older are most likely to sustain a TBI.
- Almost half a million (473,947) emergency department visits for TBI are made annually by children aged 0 to 14 years.
- Adults aged 75 years and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalization and death.
In every age group statistics are high for males.
Traumatic Brain Injuries: Effects of damage to different lobes of the brain
Symptoms for Adults and Children
The injuries covered in this article are ones that involve a concussion, which are closed head injuries and usually do not involve bleeding inside the brain. Plus, they are not usually life threatening. If the concussion is mild, it quite possibly will not involve a loss of consciousness, although the individual might feel dazed for a few minutes. If there is loss of consciousness it typically does not last long.
Some of the other brain injury symptoms of a mild injury include:
- Blurred vision
- Memory loss
- Ringing in the ears
- A bad taste in the mouth
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Change in sleep patterns
- Behavioral or mood changes
- Problems with concentration, attention, or thinking
A severe concussion can certainly involve a longer loss of consciousness and a longer recovery time. In addition, this individual can have the above symptoms, as well as, nausea and vomiting, a more severe headache, slurred speech, dilation of one or both eye pupils, coordination loss, extremity numbness, increased confusion, agitation and restlessness. Any person with these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Brain injury symptoms in infants and children include:
- Changes in the sleeping habits
- Easily irritated that is unusual
- Nursing or eating changes
- Persistent crying and unable to be consoled
- Changes in the child's ability to pay attention
- Mood is sad or depressed
Basic Facts about Traumatic Brain Injury
Defence Department Advances
Concussions are caused by any significant hit to the head, i.e. blunt force trauma. This can happen in a car or motorcycle accident. Sports injuries, particularly playing football, and also military injuries are being researched to help prevent the long term consequences of concussions that aren’t treated correctly, or even recognized at all.
The Defense Department has a group of specialist that are looking at brain injury, even though 84% of these injuries to troops do not occur while they are on deployment, but at home. Most injuries are preventable using common safety precautions, such as, wearing helmets and using seat belts.
On the battlefield over the past ten years of experience they have firmly codified the identification of a traumatic brain injury. Their combat treatment facilities are state of the art. Soldiers are trained to know the symptoms of concussions. The Army and Marine Corps are now partnered with the NFL to share information. They have found that 85% of brain injury patients recover within three months.
Identifying Sports Injuries That Can Cause Brain Damage
Advances in Helmet Protection
Helmets have been consistently updated over the years from the traditional padding, to using a gel filled padding that is inflatable. HITS have been designing new helmets since 2006, for football players, which have embedded acelormeters (transmitters). These transmitters can estimate peak linear acceleration, rotational acceleration, impact duration and location - with a time stamp. Whether an impact with another player’s helmet or if the helmet impacts the ground, the information will be recorded.
Over these years they have recorded over a half a million impacts, with the corresponding data on head trauma. Each player transmits a different signal, even those sitting on the side lines and computers are able to monitor any trauma from hundreds of meters away. In addition, they can use the same technology to monitor dozens of soldiers simultaneously.
The study utilizing these new helmets and quantifying data of head injuries is being done through John Hopkins University in conjunction with the NFL. Their study will look at retired football players that had head injuries, as well as, monitoring current players. They want a large sample with a long term follow-up to have some meaningful data. They want to look at players that have received a number of head hits over a period of time, so they can find better ways of protecting them.
Helmet That Monitors Tempature
John Hopkins Study
John Hopkins will look at three biomarkers:
- Proteins will be measured in the blood, which are specific to brain injuries; spinal fluid monitoring will check the levels of proteins and other chemicals also.
- Electrical signals sent by the brain will be measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG) which can identify mild brain injuries in response to a stimulus.
- MRI imaging (or PET scans) can detect changes in the metabolism of the brain, any change in the activation patterns that can occur with even the mildest traumatic brain injury.
As for the former football players, they assess rates of neuropsychiatric disorders by age, and compare that data to the number of cumulative exposures to sub-concussive on concussive impacts sustained throughout their career. The researches will design a cohort study of retiring players for this purpose as well.
Other New Helmets on the Market
There are other very unique helmets on the market as well:
Hot Heads has introduced a new helmet being used on football players, which monitors the temperature of the whole football team and particularly during summer practice months, which is a giant step forward. Players can be pulled off the field if their temperature gets too high.
The technology involves an electric thermometer (called a thermistor), which is inserted under the padding in the helmet that actually measures the temperature of the temporal artery. A built in radio transmits the temperature to a person on the sidelines every 10 seconds, with 104° being the danger signal.
ThermaHelmhas developed a helmet for motorcycle riders, which works by triggering an endothermic chemical reaction inside the helmet lining at the moment of impact which immediately cools the head and keeps it cool until EMS arrives. This is so important, as 80% of all motorcycle fatalities occur due to head injuries.
Computer Image of Helmet's Transmtter
More Amazing Helmets
HITS has also designed a helmet for firefighters to monitor their location at all times, and it monitors their well-being. The implication of this technology is enormous, when you consider all the firefighters lost at 9-11. They have also developed a helmet for skiers, which measures changes in velocity and monitors the forces experienced in the head continuously.
One more study of interest is being done at Northwestern University. They designed a new helmet which will assess the severity of an impact and convey it through a color based system. This is possible as the helmet measures acceleration with sensors that include an LCD screen which flashes different colors which will depend on how hard the hit you receive. Green means it’s a mild hit, while red means get help now. The purpose is to make sure all traumatic head traumas are treated.
The new technology is fascinating and not to far removed from the Terminator! New nanotechnologies are being applied to clothing, as well as, helmets. Impenetrable t-shirt weight fabrics, stronger lightweight material is being used in weapons, new vision systems are attached to helmets and there are goggles that can see through walls.
Uniforms also have built in wireless communication linking a soldier to a command center or anywhere on earth are now available. The list just goes on and the speed of technology is certainly changing our world.
Research to keep people safer it so important, as you well know if you are a football fan. Those men repeatedly take hard hits, and I also thought about boxing as we have seen the results of damage with some of the best boxers in history. Enjoy life, but use safety equipment. Be safe!
© 2012 Pamela Oglesby