March is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Awareness Month in the U.S. And while the coronavirus pandemic has eclipsed TBI topics in the media, important research continues on these injuries, which have impacted the lives of millions of Americans.
TBI is usually caused by a blow or jolt to the head or neck that disrupts the brain’s normal functioning. It can be caused by one blow to the head or develop over time, usually after a series of concussions.
The need for a national TBI database was one of the messages expressed by the congressional Brain Injury Task Force at a meeting in the nation’s capital earlier this month.
The proper care and treatment of these injuries can be just as elusive as the injuries themselves due in part to the lack of a national registry, medical professionals, advocacy groups and some public officials maintain.
Without a centralized TBI database, researchers and caregivers have an incomplete picture of brain injuries, which have increased dramatically in number in recent years, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
TBI “overlooked and poorly resourced”
“I’ve been working in neuroscience research for more than 20 years and am appalled at how this devastating condition is often overlooked and poorly resourced,” researcher Keita Mori wrote in STAT. Mori, president and co-CEO of SanBio, a regenerative medicine company headquartered in Tokyo and Mountain View, California, was one of the attendees at the meeting, which brought together traumatic brain injury survivors, advocates, policymakers, and a multitude of health care professionals.
According to the CDC, an average of 155 people die from injuries that include a TBI in the U.S. every day. Those that survive are often left with anxiety, depression, mood swings, epilepsy, sleep deprivation, memory loss, cognitive and motor impairment, and headaches, to name just a few of the symptoms. The injuries often lead to alcohol and/or opioid abuse and suicide.
Research shows that TBI disproportionately affects vulnerable populations. For example, 53% of homeless people have suffered from TBI, according to a study published in the Lancet Public Health journal. Other studies have shown that more than 65% of prisoners and 75% of women experiencing domestic violence have suffered from TBI.
Members of the military, athletes, children, and the elderly are also especially vulnerable to TBI. Among members of the U.S. armed forces, traumatic brain injuries have come to be known as the signature injury of troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq due to the prevalence of IEDs and other explosives in those conflicts. Most recently, Iran’s missile strike on Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq caused more than 100 U.S. soldiers to suffer brain trauma of varying degrees.
Improving TBI understanding and treatments
According to Mori, management guidelines for these injuries have gone unchanged since 2008 and current treatments do little to help those living with the long-lasting effects of traumatic brain injuries. The current TBI tracking system relies on states and regions to create and manage their own registries, giving us an incomplete, fragmented look at the problem.
Mori says that a centralized registry in the U.S. that collected and collated the data of ideally all TBI patients nationwide would document how the patients were injured, how they were treated, the outcomes of that treatment, and the long-term effects of the injury.
“This kind of data could galvanize the development of updated clinical treatment guidelines, standardize care across the country, and drive clinical trials that lead to breakthroughs and innovation,” Mori says. “It would also give individuals living with traumatic brain injuries and their families better information for navigating the disjointed health care system for TBI care and support.”
Beasley Allen lawyers are active in supporting efforts to research traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its long-term health effects. Mike Andrews is President of the Board of Directors of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation (AHIF), and Stephanie Monplaisir is past President of the AHIF Montgomery Chapter. If you would like more information on this topic, they would be happy to talk with you.