Modern science is finding out traumatic brain injuries may age the brain faster, news that impacts veterans.
Many veterans returning home from war zones have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury as a result of being exposed to concussive shock waves from IEDs. Like football players and other athletes who sustain multiple concussions, war veterans are at risk of facing long-term cognitive difficulties as a result of being in combat.
University of Michigan researchers are finding differences in electrical activity in the brains of college students who had suffered concussions prior to the testing. Their control group had not sustained head injuries. Along with the differences in electrical activity, researchers also found a change in balance and gait. The interesting thing is that the research team was still able to identify differences up to six years after a concussion, or multiple concussions, had occurred.
The observed changes were subtle, meaning the study participants did not look or act differently, yet the changes were still detectable. However, this does not mean the individuals had Alzheimer’s or would suffer from early onset dementia. It just means that the changes were a possible portent of things to come later in life. The results of this study are still being correlated but are exciting as earlier detection of brain anomalies would help veterans returning from overseas.
The researchers also suggest their findings are predicated on a “dose dependent response.” The more head injuries a person sustains over his or her lifetime, the higher the risk of aging the brain faster, along with the slow disintegration of the brain’s signaling pathways. For those who had a few minor head impacts and one diagnosed concussion, the risks may be low. If you play football or hockey or have done several tours of duty in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, your risks are infinitely higher, with the cumulative effect of multiple concussions taking a toll on the brain.
Mild concussions may manifest symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and difficulty concentrating for up to a year in children. No one is absolutely certain how long the effects of a mild concussion will last in adults. The real question is how to effectively identify traumatic brain injury in athletes and military personnel, and from there, determine how they may be treated. If electrical abnormalities are a precursor to more significant damage, and if those changes are caught at an early stage to commence treatment, this can only bode well for veterans.