Concussion and Cognition

Many people suffer concussion, which is a brain injury or brain “bruise” that occurs when the brain “jiggles” or “sloshes” rapidly within the skull from an injury. The injury may be direct, like your head striking the windshield in an automobile accident; or indirect, like the sudden jerk that occurs when your seatbelt tightens in an accident occurring at a high rate of speed (over 20 mph). It can also occur when a brain “protected” by a helmet suddenly stops on impact, causing the brain to slosh up against the skull.

A bruise on the brain is very similar to any bruise you receive on the arms or legs from trauma. The difference is it interrupts vital nerve circuits connecting various brain regions. The bruise will heal over days and weeks but the nerve cell interruption may last for weeks, months, or even years. In addition, the injury can set up an immune response that further injures the brain, called “traumatic encephalopathy”, made famous in the movie Concussion with Will Smith and Alec Baldwin. Will Smith should have won the Academy Award for his role!

The primary areas of the brain to be injured in concussions are the frontal lobes, which are involved in focus, tasking, and organization, or so-called “Executive Function”. This is an acquired cause of Attention Deficit Disorder. The other area often damaged is the temporal lobe, where emotions are processed. Often, these patients suffer depression, rage, and inability to control their emotions. An example of this tragedy was Aaron Hernandez, a famous NFL football player who murdered his best friend before eventually taking his own life. His autopsy revealed severe traumatic encephalopathy. It is vital to protect the brain after a concussion, as subsequent concussions multiply the injury and markedly increase risk for severe brain dysfunction.

So, what are the most common causes of concussion? You might be surprised! In order of frequency, they are:

  • Bicycle falls
  • Falls at home (usually elderly)
  • Skateboarding
  • Soccer
  • Football

Most of these occur due to lack of helmet protection.

Treatment is difficult. Avoiding inflammatory foods such as sugary drinks, starches (wheat, corn, rice, potatoes) mixed with animal fats (pork, beef, dairy) can help. Exercise reduces oxidative stress and aids healing if done cautiously. Vitamins that reduce oxidative stress such as fish oil, turmeric, and methionine may help. The most effective medicinal therapy is probably hyperbaric oxygen. This is expensive and health insurance rarely pays for treatment. Automobile insurance may cover select cases in motor vehicle accidents. My office manager suffered a severe brain trauma and had miraculous improvement after hyperbaric oxygen.

The brain is a delicate organ. It requires protection. Nature gave us a good skull to protect us but humans did not evolve to crash our heads together in sport, or achieve high speeds as seen in auto accidents.

If you know someone involved in concussions that experience changes in mood, behavior, and concentration at work or in academic performance, it may be the result of brain injury and should be examined in detail.

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