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The Traumatized Brain: Understanding Mood, Memory and Behavior after Brain Injury


More and more is being understood about brain injuries and the impact they can have.

While members of the U.S. Military may be the most visible of those with traumatic brain injury, they are just one group impacted.

Brain injuries can strike anyone at any time – from an auto accident to playing high school football, or even a work-related accident.

So, have traumatic brain injuries become a public health crisis?

Duke University neuropsychiatrist Dr. Sandeep Vaishnavi says yes.

He is co-author of the book – “The Traumatized Brain – A Family Guide to Understanding Mood, Memory and Behavior after Brain Injury.”

Vaishnavi told KNPR's State of Nevada that problems occur when the soft tissue of the brain hits the bony structures of the skull, which is what traumatic brain injury is. The slamming causes lesions or tears in the tissue.

Vaishnavi said the problem often isn't one minor brain injury, because the brain can generally recover from that, but multiple injuries can over time cause a condition known as CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. 

"If you have a lot of mild injuries over time they can accumulate," he explained, "The studies have shown that a significant portion of these people do in fact have a lot of pathological changes in their brain."

The talk of repetitive brain injury has become more of a concern to parents as researchers look at the problem in football players.

Vaishnavi said the problem with children and teens is that areas of their brains are still developing.  

“Children and adolescents and  young people may have some more resilience because their brains are growing and developing... but at the same time because their brains are growing there are often times very critical periods for brain growth and if there is a traumatic brain injury during that time period that could have longer term consequences,” he said. 

He said at this point doctors can't give an appropriate age for when children would be safe to play in sports like football and soccer where they are more likely to suffer head injuries. 

"In many ways, we're kind of doing an experiment on people here, on kids, because we don’t know what's going to happen down the road,” he said. "We sometimes don't know what the long-term consequences are going to be."

He said changing the style of play from tackle to flag football or avoiding headers in soccer could help. In fact, last month the United States Soccer Federation set strict limits on heading the ball in youth games

"These things are not benign," Vaishnavi said, "In the past, it was almost a macho thing. You got your head hit. Your got your bell rung... it was was almost like 'oh yeah, this is part of growing up' but now we realize that that it is actually not good for your brain."

Dr. Vaishnavi said the problem with head injuries is most people will recover and be fine, but others will suffer long term, life altering impacts like memory problems, depression, irritability, attention issues and cognitive concerns. 

“This is a bit controversial in the sense that we don’t know why only certain people seem to get it, not everyone gets this, and what are the risk for it,” he said.  

The doctor says the goal of parents with kids in sports or people in any activity that could put them at risk is to protect the head from injury.

Dr. Sandeep Vaishnavi, neuropsychologist at Duke University Medical Center and co-author of the book – “The Traumatized Brain – A family Guide to Understanding Mood, Memory and Behavior after Brain Injury.”

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