Pintas & Mullins Law Firm is a member of the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, and our lawyers have extensive experience handling the unique circumstances surrounding traumatic brain injury cases. Over 1.4 million Americans suffer traumatic brain injuries each year, which is why we are announcing that March is now nationally recognized as the Brain Injury Awareness Month.
Throughout the month, hospitals and agencies across the country will be taking a closer look at brain injury prevention, rehabilitation, and treatment. The Brain Injury Association of America stated that the top four most common causes of brain injury are: falls, sports injuries, vehicle crashes, and violence.
Sports-related head injuries have emerged as one of the nation’s hottest topics, sparking conversations among the parents of young children, grade school officials, and those involved in professional contact sports. As more and more NFL players demonstrate the harmful and often dangerous effects of years of blows to the head, researchers struggle to keep up with the exact mechanisms of chronic brain injury.
Numerous studies have come out in recent years linking NFL players with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, associating childhood brain injuries with long-lasting learning effects, and detailing how frequent soccer ball-headers have a higher rate of brain injury, to name only a few. A recent article in Time outlined a study that, for the first time, classified head injury trauma into four specific stages.
The study was led by Dr. Ann McKee, a professor of neurology/pathology at Boston University School of Medicine and VA Boston Healthcare System. The study focused on the brain of nearly 60 deceased patients with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is the gradual buildup of tau, a brain protein. In CTE cases, the buildup of tau caused by repeated concussions can accumulate and interfere with basic brain functions, like learning, organization, and planning. This occurs in much the same way Alzheimer’s develops, wherein accumulation of plaque and tau cause nerve connections to wither.
Dr. McKee spent that last two decades researching Alzheimer’s, and applied the same staging and progression methods to CTE patients in the largest CTE study to date. Among these patients included veterans, boxers, football and hockey players, and people who engaged in self-inflicted head trauma behavior. Another group of researchers collected information from their families about their lives, symptoms, and behaviors.
McKee and her team found a distinct pattern in CTE progression, determining the main focal points where the injuries seemed to begin: the frontal lobe, in the convoluted cerebral cortex. Once the blood vessels in this region are damaged, the disease beings to spread, and is very difficult to stop. The nerve and tissue damage spreads to other parts of the brain in an insidious and unstoppable chain of events, until it engulfs most of the brain.
The patients studied ranged in age from 17 to 98, and doctors could clearly see the amassing tau in the brain among the older patients. They could also determine CTE’s stages, and correlate the advanced stages to those who played professional sports for a longer amount of time. This information could lead to better treatments, prevention, and detection methods for CTE.
Unfortunately, current technology is unable to detect the small abnormalities
that occur in the frontal lobe after impact. Researchers are, however,
currently testing new methods that would detect small traces of tau proteins,
thereby alerting physicians of the potential for CTE.
These new discoveries and insights could not only help doctors better protect the brain and develop ways to prevent damage from spreading, but it could help them develop better treatments for other neurological disorders as well. Preventing brain injury and tau buildup completely may not be realistic, but stopping the damage from spreading and causing degenerative and life-threatening cognitive disorders is certainly possible.
Brain injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm understand that the medical costs of treating head trauma can be astronomical, and that the long-term effects can be devastating. If you or a loved one suffered a traumatic brain injury from the negligence or carelessness of another, you have legal rights, and should contact a skilled attorney experienced in handling traumatic brain injury cases as soon as possible.