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Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is often characterized by impairments in attention, concentration, reasoning and judgment, recall and memory, visual and auditory perception, and production and use of language.  Common behavioral dysfunction includes apathy, explosiveness or exaggeration.

 

External blows or penetrating injuries, shaking of the head, exposure to compression waves from explosions, and exposure to toxic substances in combat or back home may lead to physiological and physical changes in brain function along a continuum of mild, moderate, and severe levels of impairment. Moderate to severe injury may result in coma.  Cognitive and behavioral dysfunction may result from all injuries, even “mild” injuries. TBI is not a genetic or degenerative disease.

 

TBI is a signature wound of the recent wars in Southwest Asia, most frequently caused from explosion, yet it is often difficult to diagnosis and understand. When these injuries occur, the brain is violently moved inside the skull causing damage to the brain. Due to the nature of this injury, not everyone realizes they have a TBI, and it may be invisible to others.  Active duty and Reserve service members are at increased risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian peers. This is a result of several factors, including the specific demographics of the military; in general, young men between the ages of 18 to 24 are at greatest risk for TBI.  Many operational and training activities, which are routine in the military, are physically demanding and potentially dangerous. Military service members are increasingly deployed to areas where they are at risk for experiencing blast exposures from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombers, land mines, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades.

 

Although recent attention has been intensively focused on combat related TBI, it should be noted that TBI is not uncommon even in garrison and can occur during usual daily activities. Many service members enjoy exciting leisure activities: riding motorcycles, climbing mountains, and parachuting from airplanes. In addition, physical training is an integral part of the active-duty service member's everyday life. These activities are expected for our service members and contribute to a positive quality of life; but these activities also can increase risk for TBI.

For information on TBI research, visit https://www.research.va.gov/topics/tbi.cfm