TBI Ages the Brain According to New Study

Dr. James Cole of the Imperial College London published an important paper on TBI and brain aging in the April 2015 issue of the Annals of Neurology. Prior to the study Dr. Cole and colleagues developed a computer program to track normal aging of the human brain using MRI images. After age 40 normal adults show a general decline in white matter thickness as well as thinning of grey matter in specific areas of the brain. For the study Dr. Cole did MRI brain scans on 99 people who had suffered varying levels of TB from one month to 46 years post injury. What he found was that normal controls have zero difference between their chronological age and predicted brain age, whereas in the TBI group the subject’s brains appeared an average of 5 years older than their chronological age. Dr. Cole said the difference between chronologic and actual brain age (based on MRI imaging of brain tissue) is much greater for people with more severe TBIs. He also said the study shows that the effects of TBI on brain health and tissue size go on for years after the initial injury.

Drink Milk to Nourish and Protect Your Brain

As people age their brains undergo what is called “oxidative stress” from normal metabolism. This can produce the equivalent of rust in the brain with increased risk of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Although supplement producers charge high prices for the over-the-counter pills which they claim will protect your brain from bio-chemical rusting, their claims have not been proven. Why not eat or drink natural foods that have been proven to get anti-oxidant molecules into your brain? In the Feb. 3, 2015 issue of the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition In-Young Choi, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology at KU Medical Center, and Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., professor and chair of dietetics and nutrition at KU Medical Center, published a joint article on the benefits of milk in preventing degenerative brain disease in elderly people. They had 60 older people take a brain scan after quizzing them on what they recently ate and drank. They found that the people who regularly drank milk had the highest levels of glutathione in their brains. Why is this important? Glutathione is an extremely powerful anti-oxidant proven to protect the brain from metabolic rust.

Choi’s team found that people who equaled or exceed the 3 recommended servings of dairy per day had the highest levels of glutathione. Their next study is scan the brains of people who do and do not drink much milk to compare the level of cell damage from metabolic rust in their brains.

traumatic brain injury in sports

Pediatric Brain Injury and Severe Blood Vessel Narrowing

Severe cerebral vasospasm, or severe narrowing of blood vessels, is a very dangerous complication observed in children with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) which tends to go undetected and untreated. That is because it generally begins 4-5 days post brain injury, and because many physicians who care for brain injured children are not aware of this condition. The great importance of monitoring for vasospasm in children with moderate to severe TBI was highlighted in a paper just published in Critical Care Medicine by Nicole O’Brien and co-investigators at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. O’Brien says the presence of certain factors increase the odds that a child with TBI will experience vasospasm: being in a motor vehicle accident; higher severity of injury score; lower Glasgow Coma Scale score; and fever at time of hospital admission. Vasospasm is more prevalent in and has a worse outcome in children with severe TBI as opposed to those with moderate TBI. To prevent the worst consequences of vasospasm it is crucial to diagnosis and treat it immediately.

New Approach to Treating TBI

In March 2015 Henry Ford Hospital researcher Ye Xiong, M.D., Ph.D., published an extensive review of the work going on at Henry Ford to treat traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the online journal Expert Opinion on Investigational Drugs. According to Dr. Xiong over the past several decades all 30 clinical trials of neuro-protective drugs that worked on mice have failed in humans. The purpose of those drugs was to shield brain cells from the toxic effects of the natural inflammatory process that go on in the brain consequent to a TBI. Unfortunately, although those drugs worked in mice brains they did not work in human brains. Dr. Xiong stated that over a dozen drugs being tested on mice at Henry Ford are showing promise of regrowing brain cell networks after the damage of a TBI has been done. These drugs work by promoting development of new brain tissue blood vessels and new glial cells (the cells that nourish brain tissue and help eliminate brain cell waste), as well as by helping brain cells sprout new axons to connect with the dendrites of surrounding neurons. Although this research will need time to bear fruit what makes it exciting is that it represents a whole new approach to treating brain injuries.

Should You Tell Your Boss You Have a TBI?

According to Dr. Carolyn Dewa, Senior Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, of the 40% of workers who would not tell their boss they had a mental health problem half of them would want to do something to help a colleague with a mental health problem. Why the difference in attitude? Dr. Dewa’s research shows that employees suffering from temporary cognitive or emotional difficulties that force them to miss work are reluctant to explain why out of fear their boss will either fire them, dislike them or disrespect them. She found that if employees worked in a truly positive workplace where they felt they would get support if they were honest about their condition would disclose it.

Is your workplace a positive one? Do you believe your boss would support you while you took time off for rest, recuperation, treatment or rehabilitation? What if your boss is not supportive? Remember that you may well have rights against being fired under state workers’ compensation laws or the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Leaving your work absences a mystery after you sustain a TBI is probably not the best way to go. Consulting a lawyer familiar with workplace protections against firing and worker’s rights to access care would be a smart thing to do.

TBI and Memory Dysfunction

In the November 6, 2014 online issue of PLOS Computational Biology Dr. Samuel Gershman and colleagues published a new theory of human memory formation based on testing a quantitative model on human volunteers. The theory states that humans will modify an existing memory to keep track of small, gradual changes in their environment, but they will create a brand new memory when they perceive a sudden, significant change in their environment. The key part of the brain operative in the cognitive assessment process and the memory modification vs. formation process is the hippocampus in the temporal lobe. This study explains why people with brain damage to the hippocampal area have considerable difficulty with forming new memories.

Lost Sense of Smell After Head Trauma Could Signal TBI

In the March 18, 2015 issue of the journal Neurology federal researchers published the results of their study of over two hundred veterans with head trauma. They found that soldiers who had lost their sense of smell were far more likely to have evidence of TBI on neuroimaging studies. This because the ability to smell arises from transmission of odors to the brain from the olfactory nerve. In order to identify smells the brain has to compare the odor to memories of thousands of specific smells and find a perfect match. When memory is impaired from TBI the brain cannot perform this matching process accurately. In order to detect impaired sense of smell a physician can administer a bedside smell test to the patient.

Dangers of Insomnia and Drinking for Females with TBI

Women who drink alcohol excessively and who suffer from chronic insomnia are at high risk of suicide according to a study by Michael Nadorff, PhD and colleagues at Mississippi State University which was published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. One possible reason is that feeling hopeless about ever getting a decent night’s sleep can trigger depression which makes a lethal cocktail (no pun intended) when combined with alcoholism. Since insomnia is a very common consequence of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and people with insomnia are inclined to drink in hopes of getting to sleep, this is something that females with TBI need to guard against. If you are a female with TBI who is suffering insomnia and has begun drinking alcohol to cope, then you should see your doctor and try other means of getting a good night’s sleep.

Functional Scan of Cerebral Blood Flow Diagnoses Concussion

In the March 2015 online issue of JAMA Neurology neuroscientist Timothy Meier of Albuquerque, NM published a study of 44 college football players with cognitive and behavioral symptoms of concussion. Dr. Meier used a form of neuroimaging that tracks patterns of cerebral blood flow CBF). He found that the players who improved and became asymptomatic post-concussion showed normalized CBF, whereas the players who continued to be symptomatic showed reduced CBF, especially in a part of the brain known as the dorsal midinsular cortex. The conclusion of the study was that quantified CBF can be used as an objective biomarker for concussion. What does this mean for victims of head injury who are suing in court for compensation? It means that if neuro-imaging of brain structures like CT scans or MRIs fail to show brain damage, a functional scan for quantitative CBF can help establish brain injury from an accident such as a car crash or fall.