In addition to being a major issue in sport, concussion is one of the most common injuries seen in the battlefield. In fact mild traumatic brain injury is considered the signature wound among US soldiers in the Middle East with more than 33,000 TBI’s diagnosed since 2000. Research is showing that war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are not showing improvement of traumatic brain injury (TBI) symptoms. A recent study of traumatic brain injury looked at 500 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The research concluded that brain injury symptoms did not subside over the course of eight years. Instead, the veterans reported slightly worse conditions over the course of time. More specifically almost 50 percent of the surveyed veterans reported continuing headaches. Forty-six percent said that their headaches were still “severe” up to four years after an injury. Four years later the results were even worse with 51 percent of respondents noting that they suffered from severe headaches. Sadly very little is known about post traumatic headache from any cause and one of the major goals of our foundation is research into the possible mechanism and treatment of post traumatic headache. In addition to the above the researchers also noted a similar pattern in other brain injury symptom categories like depression, impulsive decision-making, and coordination. Because brain injuries can be cumulative, veterans who suffered multiple concussions also seemed to experience even worse symptoms. This research draws more attention to traumatic brain injuries as invisible wounds. Even though veterans with brain injuries may look completely whole and healthy on the outside, painful and frustrating consequences can continue to make post-service life extremely difficult.
Furthermore, many more of our heroes go undiagnosed, mainly due to similarities among soldiers and athletes in which fierce competitiveness can allow injuries such as concussions to be ignored for sake of winning or completing a mission. Perhaps one of the greatest issues facing the military and professional sports is the aforementioned warrior culture. The only real way to change attitudes is through education. This of course is one of the two major goals of our foundation. We envision developing dual programs where athletes and wounded warriors get together and speak to athletes (at all levels) about the dangers of not reporting concussion immediately when it occurs. We are also planning of producing a video that we will post on our website which brings athletes and wounded warriors together to discuss their experiences with concussion.
Although the mechanism appears to be different the symptoms of concussion and athletes are nearly identical. In fact there is no clear evidence that the types of combat-related concussion are significantly different for blast or blunt trauma from sports and neuropsychological studies have found no measurable differences in cognitive performance between blast and blunt injuries. Research into the evaluation and treatment of concussed athletes can also be applied to our wounded warriors. In fact the NFL and U.S. Army have already teamed up on a long-term program to care for and prevent concussions and head trauma. However, given the enormous task at hand significant additional funding is going to be needed.