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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

A hug is duct tape for the soul.

From The Gainesville Sun:
Difficulty swallowing can lead to potentially deadly infections for those with the disease.

For many of the nearly one million Americans with Parkinson's disease, swallowing is anything but automatic.

In fact, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, the most common cause of death for Parkinson's patients is pneumonia caused by inhaling foreign material, such as food, while trying to swallow.

University of Florida researchers believe a hand-held device holds the solution to their swallowing problems.

According to a UF study reported in the current issue of the journal Neurology, about a third of the volunteers who used the device were able to swallow more easily.

The device itself is not new. Called an Expiratory Muscle Strength Training device, it has been used with success in patients with multiple sclerosis and in elderly, sedentary adults.

"The muscles involved in swallowing progressively weaken in Parkinson's patients and become uncoordinated in the same way that patients lose coordination and strength in their arms and legs," said Michelle Troche, the study's lead investigator.

Troche is a clinical lecturer and speech pathologist in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions' department of speech, language and hearing sciences.

As she explains it, as their disease progresses, it becomes more and more difficult for Parkinson's patients to sense material may have breathed into their airways. It also becomes much harder to cough and expel it. Since it's not sterile, the material can cause infections like pneumonia in the lungs.

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From The brain sees some faces as male when they appear in one part of a person's field of view and female when they appear in a different location, according to a discovery by neuroscientists at MIT and Harvard.

These findings go against a long-held theory of neuroscience, specifically that how the brain sees an object should not depend on where that object is located relative to the observer, says postdoctoral associate at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research Arash Afraz.

Afraz and two researchers from Harvard -- Patrick Cavanagh and Maryam Vaziri Pashkam -- described their findings in the 24 November issue of Current Biology.

The effect isn't noticeable in the real world because the brain draws upon other visual clues including clothing and hair style. However, when people were shown computer-generated faces stripped of any other features that might identify gender, patterns of gender bias emerge.

Photo credit: Wired UK

Keep reading.

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From Better Health Research:
Scientists at the Laboratory of Psychiatry and Experimental Alzheimers Research have found that a chronic high-fat cholesterol diet may lead to brain damage.

The researchers noted that the onset of Alzheimer's disease can begin up to 30 years before symptoms appear and that high cholesterol levels have been linked to this illness. Therefore, the scientists focused the study to find the effects that hypercholesterolemia has on the brain.

For the study, the investigators examined 6-month old male rats and fed assigned the subjects to either a cholesterol-high diet or control group.

The animals were tested for brain damage, including behavioral impairments and pathological markers, after five months.

Overall, the researchers found that the high-cholesterol group experienced inflammation, microbleeding, memory loss, and neurotransmitter dysfunction in their brains – all of which are similar to complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Read more.

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From the Columbia Daily Tribune:

WASHINGTON — The much-maligned combat helmet worn by U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan sustained another blow Monday as engineers from MIT reported the headgear does little to protect troops from blast-related brain injury.

But the research team identified a design change that could substantially improve the helmet’s ability to reduce the risk of concussion: a face shield capable of deflecting the rippling force of an explosion from the soft tissues of the face.

With a shield in place, “you actually do mitigate the effects of the blast quite significantly,” said Raul Radovitzky, lead author of a study published Monday in the online version of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report was not the first to identify the shortcomings of the military’s advanced combat helmet.


Traumatic brain injury, often called TBI or concussion, has become one of the most distinctive and intractable wounds sustained by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The armed services have diagnosed more than 188,000 cases to date among troops who have served in the Middle East.

Many experts think the true toll is far higher, since the effects of brain injury can be easy to miss. The Rand Corp. has estimated as many as 320,000 servicemen and women might have suffered brain injuries during their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brain injuries stemming from explosions during combat appear similar to those sustained by civilians in car accidents, falls and sporting events.

In most cases, a soldier close to an explosion is thrown against a wall or to the floor, causing “brain whiplash,” said neurosurgeon Jam Ghajar, president of the Brain Trauma Foundation.

But for many troops, brain trauma appears to occur in the absence of a direct blow to the head. That mystery has left most experts guessing how the damage occurs.

Keep reading.

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From The design of the combat helmet worn by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan does little to protect troops from blast-related brain injury, researchers say.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigated traumatic brain injury, often called TBI or concussion, one of the most distinctive and difficult wounds sustained by troops, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

More than 188,000 cases have been diagnosed among troops who have served in the Middle East, military officials say.

Brain injuries from explosions occur when a soldier close to the blast is thrown against a wall or to the floor, causing "brain whiplash," neurosurgeon Jam Ghajar, president of the Brain Trauma Foundation, said.

But for many troops, brain trauma appears to occur without a direct blow to the head, leaving many experts wondering how the damage occurs.

The MIT research team says a design change could substantially improve the helmet's ability to reduce the risk of concussion in these cases.

A face shield, they say, would deflect the rippling force of an explosion away from the soft tissues of the face that could be transmitting the shock of the explosion into the skull and brain.

Visit UPI for Science & Health News updates.

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From AoLHealth:
A new study suggests that infants born during the night may be at higher risk of brain disorders than those born during daylight hours.

The research, out of the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco, shows a higher incidence of neonatal encephalopathy among infants born between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Neonatal encephalopathy is a neurological syndrome that often results in the development of cerebral palsy and epilepsy and, in some cases, even death.

More than 10,000 babies are born with neonatal encephalopathy in the U.S. each year. This latest research, led by Dr. Yvonne Wu, involved 1.8 million term babies born in California over a 14-year period. Those born at night exhibited a 22 percent increased risk of developing the condition.

What's not clear from the new study, however, is why there is a greater risk with nighttime deliveries. Wu told AOL Health that while neonatal encephalopathy can be the result of a severe placental hemorrhage, ruptured uterus, growth restriction in the womb, lack of proper prenatal care or even advanced maternal age, there is no clear reason for why nighttime delivery also seems to increase risk.

"It is unclear whether the quality of obstetric and neonatal care impacts the risk of neonatal encephalopathy," Wu said. She theorizes that reduced staffing at hospitals at night could impact outcomes.
Keep reading.

This is not happy news, but I believe it's important for caregivers and family members to know this.

From The Irish Medical Times:

During the year following hospitalisation for a traumatic brain injury, a majority of patients experience major depression, according to a new study.
In the study, researchers attempted to determine the rate of major depressive disorder (MDD) during the first year after traumatic brain injury (TBI) and also examined predictors of MDD, MDD-related co-existing illnesses and the relationship of MDD to quality-of-life outcomes.

The study included 559 hospitalised adults with complicated mild to severe TBI, who were followed up by structured telephone interviews at months one through six, eight, 10 and 12. Depression and anxiety were gauged with Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) study measures, which were administered at each assessment, and the European Quality of Life measure was given at 12 months.

The researchers found that during the first year after TBI, some 297 of 559 patients (53.1 per cent) met criteria for MDD at least once, giving such patients a rate of MDD about eight times greater than would be expected in the general population. The study’s authors noted that because of incomplete data at each assessment time point, the rate and depression duration estimates were likely to be conservative.

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From The New York Times:

If you like social networks and video games, a new product that mashes the two together could help exercise your brain while keeping it entertained online.

On Wednesday, Posit Science, a company specializing in games that are designed to exercise the brain, introduced Brain Odyssey, a social online game that is meant to help the brains of baby boomers. The company says its site uses “clinically proven” neuroscience research to improve cognitive performance.

The game takes place in a series of virtual cities and encourages users to explore and engage with a number of brain training exercises while plodding through a series of challenges online.

Dr. Michael Merzenich, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Posit Science, said in a telephone interview that the company had taken years of research associated with the brain, video games and technology and applied it to this online world.

Citing past research, Dr. Merzenich said that playing the game could help exercise areas of the brain associated with memory retention, and improve the speed and accuracy of the brain’s ability to process visuals.

Keep reading.

Play Brain Odyssey here.

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From A new study shows that subjects who began smoking pot before age 16 scored significantly worse on cognitive function tests than both nonsmokers and those who picked up the habit later in life.

The research, presented Monday at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, analyzed tests performed on 33 chronic marijuana smokers -- the scientific term for "stoner" -- and 26 nonsmokers. Lead researcher Staci Gruber and her team from the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital found that chronic smokers demonstrated an inability to retain a set of rules and repeated errors more frequently than the nonsmokers. (One wonders whether this explains why California failed to pass Proposition 19.)

"Even before any behavioral differences, we found that those who started smoking before 16 years old tended to smoke twice as often and three times the amount of marijuana in grams than chronic smokers who started smoking later in life," Gruber said.

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From The New York Times:
WHAT happens in our brains when we watch a compelling TV commercial? For one thing, certain brain waves that correlate with heightened attention become more active, according to researchers who have used EEGs, or electroencephalographs, to study the brain’s electrical frequencies. Brain waves that signal less-focused attention, meanwhile, tend to subside.

In other words, this is your brain on ads.

Or so say neuromarketers, a nascent group of researchers who use techniques from neuroscience to analyze people’s responses to products and promotions.

Neuromarketing’s raison d’être derives from the fact that the brain expends only 2 percent of its energy on conscious activity, with the rest devoted largely to unconscious processing. Thus, neuromarketers believe, traditional market research methods — like consumer surveys and focus groups — are inherently inaccurate because the participants can never articulate the unconscious impressions that whet their appetites for certain products.

If pitches are to succeed, they need to reach the subconscious level of the brain, the place where consumers develop initial interest in products, inclinations to buy them and brand loyalty, says A. K. Pradeep, the founder and chief executive of NeuroFocus, a neuromarketing firm based in Berkeley, Calif.

Volunteers in NeuroFocus marketing tests wear a fabric cap that houses EEG sensors and an eye-tracking device while they look at a commercial, use a Web site or view a movie trailer. The dual devices enable researchers to connect the volunteers’ brain patterns with the exact video images or banner ads or logos they’re viewing.

“By measuring brain waves, we are able to measure attention, emotion and memory,” says Dr. Pradeep, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering. “We basically compute the deep subconscious response to stimuli.”

Add all those electrical patterns together, he says, and “you find it represents the whispers of the brain.”

And the brain-whispering business seems to be booming.

But is it ethical?

Keep reading.

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From The North Country Gazette:

ALBANY– In recognition of Veterans Day and the sacrifices made by New York’s veterans, the state’s Department of Health has released the video, “Coming Home”, a personal view into the lives of veterans who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the services available to help in their recovery.

“This video is a moving tribute to the sacrifices veterans and service members have made and the challenges faced by those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury,” said Commissioner Richard Daines. “This video will benefit all individuals with TBI and their family members, as well as those who have served in the military.”

The video was produced by the Brain Injury Association of New York State (BIANYS) in cooperation with the New York State Department of Health (DOH) with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Coming Home captures — in their own words — the courage and resilience of veterans who sustain a TBI in service to their country and how that changes their lives and the lives of their families,” said BIANYS Executive Director Judith Avner.

The video is narrated by Lee Woodruff, author and wife of ABC News Reporter Bob Woodruff, who sustained a head injury in 2006 while covering the war in Iraq when the Army tank he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb; and by Dave Hughes, an advocate for individuals with TBIs who sustained a brain injury in 1992, shortening his once successful radio career.

Copies of the DVD and further information may be obtained from the Brain Injury Association at 1-800-228-8201.

See Part 1 of Coming Home
See Part 2

Visit the North Country Gazette.

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From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON, Nov 10, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The first national study to give a voice to family caregivers of veterans reveals that they are twice as likely as family caregivers(1) of adults overall to consider their situation highly stressful, and yet 94 percent of them are proud to serve.

The study, released today by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and funded by United Health Foundation, finds that family caregivers of veterans face a higher burden of care, both in intensity and duration, often supporting a spouse or partner over a longer period of time than typical family caregivers. These caregivers also are predominantly women (96 percent) compared to the national average (65 percent), and many make sacrifices to their own health and jobs to care for their loved ones.

The Caregivers of Veterans - Serving on the Homefront study is the first in-depth look at family caregivers of veterans and provides unique insights into the effects of caregiving for a veteran on the caregivers' own health, work and home life. The study also provides a look at caregiving across the age spectrum representing caregivers of veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"The family caregivers who serve our country's veterans are making huge sacrifices in terms of their own health, careers and home life," said Reed Tuckson, M.D., United Health Foundation board member and executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group. "The data indicate that these 'homefront heroes' are proud to serve in the role of caregiver for their loved ones. Yet it is incumbent upon all of us to help them find support and solutions to preserve their own health and well being, as well as that of the veteran. It is important that relatives, friends, and neighbors seek out opportunities to provide respite and other supportive services to these caregivers."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs projects that there are more than 23 million U.S. veterans. A previous NAC study on caregiving nationwide found that more than 10 million people are caring for a veteran, and nearly seven million of them are veterans themselves.

Keep reading.

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From The Huffington Post:

On Veterans Day our nation honors the men and women who have served our country. Cities host parades, department stores have sales, schools and the Federal Government close. Most of us are thankful for a day off. Rarely do we stop to think about the tremendous sacrifices made by those in the military community -- the risks they take and the burdens they carry. Rarely do we reflect on how families and lives are forever changed as a result of war.

Since September 11, 2001, over 2 million men and women have deployed to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these men and women have deployed multiple times -- and many family members have suffered through multiple separations and reintegrations. Thus far 5,798 men and women have died during these wars and the number of those who have come home with significant physical injuries is approaching 40,000.

In addition to the thousands who must deal with physical injuries, many of our returning troops are coming home with the invisible -- but expected -- injuries of war including post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, depression and anxiety. Some studies suggest that as many as 35 percent of those who experience combat will eventually develop some symptoms of post traumatic stress. In addition, approximately 20 percent of those coming home will experience a traumatic brain injury as a result of their service. Sadly, a large number of those who suffer these invisible injuries fail to seek the care that they so need and deserve.

Keep reading.

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From Serious Law:

Doctors may be able to limit brain injury resulting from stroke by administering a fish oil component to patients.

Docosahexaenoic acid can be used to protect brain tissue against the damaging impacts of ischemic stroke, according to scientists at the Louisiana State University.

Researchers found that this extract from fish provides protection to key brain tissue, even if administered up to five hours after stroke.

Commenting on the findings published in the Translational Stroke Research journal, lead researcher Dr Nicolas Bazan said: "There is no simple solution just yet, but each new discovery brings us closer to defeating stroke and other debilitating neurodegenerative diseases.

"We are in an unprecedented time, from a public health point of view, in regards to tackling stroke and other neurodegenerative disorders."

Meanwhile, recent research published in Archives of Neurology indicated that a quarter of patients stop taking medication within three months of hospitalisation for acute stroke.

Serious Law, award winning brain injury law firm.

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From The Grand Rapids Press:

GRAND RAPIDS -- The Wounded Warrior Traumatic Brain Injury Project is offering free physical and psychological care to soldiers who sustained traumatic brain injuries in Afghanistan or Iraq during the past two years.

Organizers of the project announced today that they are recruiting 17 soldiers to participate in the program, a partnership between Grand Valley State University and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. The program, funded with a $1.279 million grant from the Department of Defense, is a research project that involves training specifically geared to patients with a military background.

"We're excited about this," said Dr. Jacobus Donders, chief psychologist at Mary Free Bed. "All the people hired for this project are hired from within. The main motive for most is they either have family members in the military or they feel strongly the need to support our troops."

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From The New York Times: The man with perhaps the most gruesome job in sports was unenviably busy. While other football fans spent the last weekend of October watching games, the 74-year-old retiree prepared still more formal inquiries into events that occupy him more than anyone would prefer — two high school football tragedies.

He gathered information from Web searches and e-mailed questionnaires to the National Federation of State High School Associations. The linebacker outside Kansas City, Kan., who collapsed from an apparent brain injury and died the next morning. The junior-varsity defensive back from Fresno, Calif., who was sent to a hospital and into a coma by a hit that caused massive brain swelling.

Fred Mueller has almost singlehandedly run the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research at the University of North Carolina for 30 years, logging and analyzing more than 1,000 fatal, paralytic or otherwise ghastly injuries in sports from peewees to the pros. His work has repeatedly improved safety for young athletes by identifying patterns that lead to changes in rules, field dimensions and more.

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From KVAL:

EUGENE, Ore. -- It's a wound few understand or even see: Many of Oregon's service members are coming home forever changed by Traumatic Brain Injury, known as TBI for short.

In World War II, brain injury was caused by blunt force or by flying shrapnel. Even in the Revolutionary War, cannon blasts were the threat.
Although brain injuries were part of warfare before Iraq and Afghanistan, we still don't know much about TBI. Also, because doctors have become so good at saving lives, many more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are surviving explosions and returning home with this mysterious injury.
During Bravo Company's 15 month deployment, they lived through massive IED explosions and mortar attacks on a daily basis. These blasts can send sound waves hurtling though the air at 1,600 feet per second, sending percussion waves through the heads of soldiers. "The first time it gets you," said Bravo Company's Julio Najara, "the first time you're like oh my God. You're like -- you freeze."

IED blasts killed four Bravo Company service members - and Stock says all of those who survived came home with brain injuries. "Brain injury and war go hand in hand," said Stock. "The percussion waves are so great they're throwing vehicles, throwing people as well as shrapnel."

Brain injury specialists say when shock waves from the blast travel through the heads of soldiers, tiny air bubbles are created in the brain tissue. And doctors say those bubbles can spontaneously pop even several months after an explosion.

"People without real serious looking wounds end up dying or nearly dying from blast wave exposure," said Oregon National Guard Major James Sardo. "The problem with TBI is that it's an internal injury, and someone could be seriously injured and look just fine."

Of the 1.6 million soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's estimated that 320,000 - or one in every five soldiers - came home brain injured.

Keep reading.

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