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Concussions – Where Do We Stand in 2020?

Presently, the word “concussion” holds a very different valence than it did a decade ago. If you told someone a generation ago that they had a concussion, the go-to response would have been; “some rest will take care of that” or the causal “you’ll be fine before you know it”. This nonchalance towards a seemingly mundane “head injury” persuades people to overlook the continuing aftereffects that they may experience following their concussion, a common occurrence we see with sports injuries. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease that emerges following multiple head injuries and causes changes in the way a person behaves, thinks and recognize their surroundings; it can essentially alter a person’s entire personality, leaving them unrecognizable. This change in behavior used to be deemed a personality disorder instead of a consequence of brain injury, however, presently we see a more reasonable and judicious approach to discussing brain injuries. Hollywood has been using their platform to call attention to the deleterious nature of brain injuries, for example, with their 2015 movie called Concussion starring Will Smith who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who fights against the National Football League trying to suppress his research on CTE brain degeneration commonly experienced by professional football players. One cannot deny that it is progressive that people are using their influence to better educate the masses, to inform everyone that a concussion isn’t merely a “hit” to the brain; such simplification appropriates the years of suffering and mental exhaustion a patient may have faced. Additionally, we see the emergence of novel treatment protocols that target post-concussion symptoms. In addition to active treatment of the neck and rehabilitation, cognitive behavioral therapy is being used to target depression and anxiety, symptoms that patients typically experience after having a major concussion. Furthermore, more research is being done to find specific biomarkers, or biological genetic flags, of prolonged concussion syndrome and CTE, which opens doors to the development of therapeutics.

With technological advancements, people are embracing that AI could address various brain ailments. For example, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is still not very well understood, only understood as an aftereffect of a strong brain injury. However, AI-based algorithms are being used to improve treatment for TBI. For example, researchers from Helsinki University Hospital (Finland) have created an AI-based algorithm that can predict the probability of a patient dying with 80 to 85 percent accuracy1. AI is also driving the advancement of neurorehabilitation with the development of software and apps, which takes overwhelming information and data available on a brain injury and condenses it to create an output that caters to individuals, in other words, a more personalized approach to treatment response. For example, this very start-up, Neurolix AI, aims to create an app that uses the information on Traumatic Brain Injury that is currently available in the literature to advise patients on how to manage the TBI symptoms they are currently experiencing, based on their medical history. In doing so, this app can cater to numerous patients within a shorter period, as opposed to individual patients waiting to get an appointment with their doctor, only for their symptoms to worsen.

It is hard to believe that different classifications of brain injuries have emerged when only a few decades ago brain injury in itself was not taken seriously. By classifying symptoms into their brackets, researchers can get closer to developing a concrete therapeutic, even opening the door to better understanding the undiscovered facets of the brain. The advancements we have achieved and our current stand on concussions and brain injury just comes to show that this is an ailment that people are dedicated to further understanding, where future generations will pick up from where their successors left off, inching closer to finding an absolute answer. In short, there is hope for a cure, hope for a patient to regain their old self and hope for society to get better educated about the effects of this “mere” brain injury.

References:

1Wednesday, N. (n.d.). AI-based Algorithm Improves TBI Treatment. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://www.laboratoryequipment.com/558226-AI-based-Algorithm-Improves-TBI-Treatment/