Center Studies Traumatic Brain Injuries
July 2, 2007
It’s great to see the military being proactive in treating and researching Traumatic Brain Injuries. Being familiar with the mechanism of injury that causes TBIs, I’m well aware of the difficulties that a person can face, if not properly diagnosed and treated. By diagnosing the injury early and providing appropriate treatment, Soldiers who suffer from a TBI, stand a much better chance of recovering fully from their injury. As more research is conducted, more and better methods of treatment will soon be forthcoming. As with PTSD, this is an area that I will continue to watch closely.
The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), headquartered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, treats and researches traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which have been noted to be signature woundes for Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The DVBIC operates 9 sites across the United States, where patients suffering from mild, moderate and severe TBI are treated. The sites also develop guidelines for care, study the prevalance of TBI, conduct research and often addresses the difference between TBI and PTSD.
“It’s impossible not to be changed by going to war,” said Dr. Deborah Warden, DVBIC national director. “Parsing out what parts are a stress reaction and what parts ave to do with a previous concussion is difficult.”
The difficulty comes, because TBI and PTSD share many common symptoms, such as difficulty in concentration, memory problems and irritability. However, TBI symptoms can also include headaches, dizziness and problems with balance. A person suffering from PTSD may have nightmares, re-experiencing traumatic events and have anxiety that can worsen.
According to the acting deputy director of Clinical and Educational Affairs at DVBIC, Kathy Hlmick, another difference is that TBI is usually diagnosed when a person is first injured. Treaments for the two are the same, including sleep, good nutrition and support. Those are the three top things clinicians do for both TBI & PTSD.
Dr. Warden stresse that Soldiers suffering from mild TBI must take care to avoid a second head injury, while their brains are healing. In the majority of cases, the brain recovers fine from one mild TBI, however two in quick succession can create a cululative effects that’s not as easily treated with rest. The high operational up-tempo of the miltary makes it difficult at times to get adequate rest, however servicemembers have an advantage when recovering.
“The older you are and the more medical conditions you have, the more this will impact recovery,” said Ms. Helmick. “Because the military is young with few medical conditions, they have better outcomes than the general population.”
To date, more than 35,000 servicemembers have been screened for TBI’s. Approximately 11% of those screened had a mild TBI, while half of those showed no symptoms. TBI’s commonly known as concussions, can effect operational effectiveness of a Soldier suffering from it, through poor markmanship, delayed reaction time, decreased ability to concentrate and inappropriate behavior that lasts for several days or longer.
A study that has been proposed in Congress as a part of the Heroes at Home Act, would require that servicemembers suffering from mild, moderate and severe TBI’s be followed for 15 years to determine the long-term effects of brain injuries. Researchers are also studying anxiety and hyperactivity medications to determine if they might be of benefit to TBI patients, according to Dr. David Moore, DVBIC’s director of research.
“Nobody thought that blast was going to be a problem until two or three years into the conflct,” said Dr. Moore. “The discomfort about the whole situation is that you know that people are suffering and you want to get on and do the work as quickly as possible.”
Dr. Warden feels that the screening processes that have been implemented will aid in identifying Soldiers with a TIB and that help is on the way to those in recovery.
“I think there are people who had concussions in theater and may have recovered completely, and others who have not recovered completely,” she said. “I’d like to think that the processes we are putting into place are going to make it easier to address the needs of a lot of those people.”