Traumatic Brain Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation

Starting Quarterback Trent Edwards #5 of the Buffalo Bills suffers a concussion
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Those that are avid watchers of the National Football League (NFL) have noticed that the league is beginning to pay serious attention to head injuries. Repeated blows to the head carry an immense risk and the cumulative effect of repeated brain trauma frequently shows only after the players retire and start experiencing a myriad of health problems. To combat the concussion epidemic in the NFL brain trauma experts have suggested impact-measuring helmet sensors.

There has, however, been some controversy around the use of these sensors — some experts doubting their accuracy — and as such NFL helmets have not be outfitted with this technology yet. Nonetheless, the NFL continues to support sensor testing and at least 20 colleges have put these sensors to use helping coaches and medical personnel monitor when dangerous head trauma occurs.

Research on Impact Sensors

A lot of resources are being invested into developing more advanced and accurate technologies in brain injury treatment and rehabilitation. Since active duty soldiers are often exposed to head concussions, the U.S. Army has a vested interest in developing novel systems that can detect and prevent traumatic brain injuries (TBI). In fact, they have been working closely with the NFL in developing sensors that can be fitted in helmets, cars and on torsos. One day these sensors could help doctors assess an individual after they have experienced a military blast.

Some impact sensors use a traffic light-type warning system: green for normal impact, yellow for moderate exposure and amber for serious exposure. In this way, service members (or athletes) can be monitored and not sent back into action (or the sports field) if they have sustained a potentially serious impact and need to recuperate.

The Checklight, designed by MC10 in partnership with Reebok, is a sensor aimed specifically at athletes. It works as a head impact indicator and can be worn with or without a helmet. It visually displays the severity of a particular blow, making it easier for coaches, parents and athletes to make decisions regarding the care that is needed after an impact.

Mobile Apps that Can Help TBI Patients

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury each year. The severity ranges from mild concussions to serious brain injuries that can lead to coma and death. The problem of brain injury is widespread and can affect anyone at anytime, changing the course of their lives and presenting the sufferer and their families with unforeseeable challenges. Tasks that used to be second nature can become daunting endeavors and habitual skills difficult to execute. Here, too, digital technology can assist.

Mobile apps can potentially help those with a TBI re-learn and/or improve cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration and communication skills.

For instance, the 'Yes/No' app can help those with severe communication problems enabling the user to give yes and no replies with the push of a button. The Audible app can be used by patients who have developed issues with reading visually.

Mood and behavior issues can often be a symptom of TBI. The 'Breathe2Relax' app can potentially aid with stress and anxiety management, while 'Behavior Tracker Pro' can potentially be used to track and graph how behaviors change over time.  

Moving towards Smart Treatment Options

The prognosis and protocol for TBI depends on the circumstance of the individual and the severity of the injury. The TBIcare Project, a EU-based research initiative, is taking this into account as it develops a predictive model that potentially will be used in emergency units to determine which injuries to treat first, how to treat them as well as customizing an individual’s stabilization and recovery process.

Data from hundreds of TBI patients are being gathered and analyzed, the hope being eventually doctors may have access to an algorithmic-based system that can advise them on the most effective course of treatment. This new, evidence-based approach to TBI will combine statistical models with simulation techniques with the promise of more accurate diagnosing and treatment of TBI in the future.

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