By Madisson Bednark
April 10, 2018
The following discusses what a brain injury is, the challenges faced by treatment options, and new studies that might help manage some symptoms of brain injury.
Brain injury can occur to any person at any time. Damage to an adult brain is typically permanent because cells of the adult brain don’t divide like they do in childhood. This means that there is basically no opportunity to regrow the damaged brain tissue. Acquired brain injury is an umbrella term used to describe indirect brain injury resulting from the disruption of blood supply/oxygen (typically a stroke or strangulation), but also can be describing traumatic events. Traumatic brain injury stems from accidents, concussions, or blows to the head. It is estimated that 1.7 million people in the U.S. have experienced a traumatic brain injury. Current treatment options for brain injuries are still limited and are focused on the first hours after the trauma has taken place. The problem with time sensitive treatment in the case of a domestic violence survivor, is that they will likely not receive emergency care directly following a head injury. This could be due to fear of prosecution, fear of judgement, or lack of resources to accessing the health care system. The other issue with current treatments, is that they are aimed at decreasing symptoms but do not address the underlying processes responsible for the symptoms that interfere with everyday functions.
While there is no magical drug that can reverse the damage incurred by an acquired brain injury, our body does have mechanisms that help the brain recover. The brain cells have about 1,013 synaptic connections between them that creates a highly complex network where information is passed from one cell to another, creating thoughts, actions, and our behavior. As previously mentioned, the adult brain cannot easily grow new neurons however the connections between them are flexible and can be changed. This idea of growing new connections is known as plastic remodeling, and it shows that our brain is capable of creating new connections and eliminating the old ones that no longer serve us. Post brain injury, this flexibility helps to reconfigure the organization within our brain and therefore helps people regain functions they had prior to the trauma. Tapping into this natural self healing can be helped along by a medical professional, which is one of the reasons that we make it a priority to screen our clients for TBI’s at The Initiative. If a client doesn’t know they have a brain injury then they don’t yet have access to the options that will enable them to decrease symptoms and regain their quality of life.
Looking forward into the future, the options for treating brain injuries looks hopeful. There are many studies being conducted at this moment to identify ways of helping the entire recovery process, not only masking the symptoms and making them more “manageable”. A study from 2013 caught my eye because it was speaking about the relationship between TBI and diet. While it was only an animal model, it could represent a helpful component that people with TBI’s could incorporate into their diet without experiencing any side effects. Sleep disorders are commonly seen with traumatic brain injury, which can negatively impact a person’s ability. Certain people can experience insomnia, but on the other end of the spectrum it is not uncommon for people with TBI to struggle with wakefulness, the ability to stay awake when they want to. In the study, mice with TBI’s were given a dietary supplement of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAA therapy restored activation of certain brain cells and improved the ability for mice to stay awake. The data suggests that BCAA intervention can improve brain injury-induced sleep disturbances and may assist cognitive rehabilitation after the brain injury. The best part is that BCAA’s are protein that you can buy at a grocery store or a supplement store. They are not something a person would need a prescription for, nor do they have harmful side effects like most pharmaceuticals. BCAA’s are highly accessible, affordable, and if the future studies show the same effectiveness in humans they could be a beneficial part of the treatment of TBI’s.
Supporting Recovery from Brain Injury. By Simon Rumpel. Science 06 Apr 2018: p30-31
Dietary Therapy Mitigates Persisent Wake Deficits Caused by Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. By Miranda Lim. Scient Translational Medicine 11 Dec 2013: Vol. 5 Issue 215, pp 215