Motor vehicle accidents can cause traumatic brain injuries that can permanently alter the lives of survivors. While some healing can occur, the reality is that brain injuries often cause irreversible damage to memory functions, motor control, temperament, etc. These can affect the individual’s ability to work, their relationships, and their quality of life.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are a leading cause of death and permanent disability in the United States. It is estimated that from 2006 to 2014, the total number of visits to hospital emergency rooms, hospitalizations, and fatalities rose by more than 53%. As of 2014, it was estimated that an average of 155 per day died due to TBI related injuries.
TBI’s can be mild or severe. When the brain is injured, these effects can last a few days, or persist for the rest of a survivor’s lifetime. When the brain is injured, it can lead to changes in the individual’s thought process and memory. It can alter their movement and limit their mobility. It may also cause changes to hearing, vision, and touch. In many cases, TBI results in permanent changes to the individual’s personality and emotional state. In fact, many TBI survivors suffer from persistent depression.
Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of TBI in the United States. When individuals are involved in a car accident, their head can strike the dash, the steering wheel, windows, and any loose objects within the vehicle. This impact can disrupt the normal function of the brain. Moreover, the impact of an injury can radiate throughout the individual’s body. It can cause excessive sweating (or inability to sweat,) persistent pain, neuropathy, muscle twitching, bladder problems, difficulty digesting food, and muscle atrophy. For this reason, individuals who are suspected of having a TBI should receive a thorough examination to determine the proper extent of the individual’s injury and its impact on organ, neurological, and muscle function.
Approximately 2 million TBI’s are diagnosed during visits to a hospital emergency room. A further 1 million are diagnosed during an in-office examination by a physician. Approximately 300,000 are identified via hospital records, while just under 84,000 are identified in outpatient medical facilities. Finally, it’s estimated that roughly 53,000 are identified by coroners during an autopsy.
Symptoms of TBI vary from patient to patient. In general, persistent headaches following a motor vehicle accident, weakness/numbness in the limbs, and decreased limb coordination are common symptoms that can indicate a TBI. Other symptoms including slurred speech, difficulty communicating, loss of short-term or long-term memory are also common. Some individuals may experience extreme drowsiness that doesn’t improve following rest, convulsions, seizures, or sudden changes in mood/personality.
Physicians have a wide range of diagnostic tools available to identify the presence and severity of TBI. These include MRI, PET, and CT scans. These can identify the regions of the brain impacted by the injury and the severity of the injury. These tests can provide a baseline that neurologists and others can use to identify the best treatment options and to track the individual’s recovery following a motor vehicle accident.
In addition to scans, physicians will evaluate the individual’s thought process, mobility, sensory functions, coordination, and reflexes. In most cases, TBI survivors suffer negative effects in multiple areas. While some of these may improve over time through the application of medication and therapy, in many instances, these changes will persist throughout the individual’s lifetime.
The Promises of the Future
Current treatments for TBI are limited. Most are aimed at mitigating the impact of the injury and attempting to slow progression of the injury. The growing prevalence of TBI in the United States and around the world has resulted in increased research and funding into methods that may prove more effective, and ultimately, may restore the individual’s pre-crash functions.
These therapies are still in the nascent stage of study and development. They include the use of light wavelengths to target cells and reenergize the mitochondria or organelles. Others are looking to the use of valproic acids that are currently used to treat psychiatric disorders and epilepsy.
Some researchers are looking into the use of point-of-care devices that can monitor and measure an individual’s biomarkers in real-time. It is believed that such approaches could provide expedited diagnosis and allow neurologists to administer medications and therapies faster, such as administering insulin, that could slow or halt the progression of the injury, thus preserving as much of the individual’s pre-crash functions as possible.
These, and many other potential treatments are currently being explored by physicians in the United States and around the world. However, there are no “magic bullets,” and current technologies are limited in their ability to fully restore the memory, motor control, personality, and other aspects of the individual’s health that are diminished or lost when a TBI occurs.