#GivingTuesday

What do you do with all the cash you saved on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?  Well, 6 years ago #GivingTuesday was officially introduced.  (The hashtag in the name is a clear indication that the global day of giving was instigated on social media and peoples’ desire to help.)  On the day’s website, one can find most of the charities/non-profits in their area.  Though all the listed charities/non-profits are well-deserving of support, specifically related to brain injury, there are links to the Brain Injury Alliances in various states and other charities, nonprofits and hospitals that help the brain injured.  (One foundation that is not found in the search, but is well-worth donated to, especially for those residing in the North New Jersey area, is the Kessler Foundation.)

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November 11th – Veterans Day

November 11 is a day to celebrate and honor the millions of Americans, of all races and genders, who served this country with honor as veterans of the US military – today is Veterans Day!  It is time to recognize the veterans who are living with the “signature wound” of more recent wars: traumatic brain injury and often the co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder.  These men and women fight on the battlefield for the citizens of the United States and now fight for their health and/or equality back at home.  (Visit the articles links or click the Government/Military link on the right side of this page to find more information about veterans and TBI.)

Youth Football “Suits” Up

The Super Bowl may not be until next year, but the drama of football is already surfacing in California, as a “Judge OKs trial for brain-injury suit against Pop Warner.”  Specifically, the mothers claim their sons, who were 22 and 25 years old on their deaths, died as a result of the brain damage caused to them from participation in the Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. {PWLS) football league.  (They say that Pop Warner misrepresents its concern for safety when it says, “Pop Warner is the ONLY youth football program (local, regional and national) that sets and enforces a strict AGE & WEIGHT MATRIX that reduces the risk and reality of injuries.”

In the past few years, the relationship between sports and brain injury has been extensively studied, primarily on the professional level.  However, studies have also been done on youth football players with results that are equally, if not more, troubling considering their still-developing brains.  “In the past 3 years, 47 children have died playing football in the United States.  Others found [that]… 21 out of 66 brains with clear evidence of CTE in males who played contact football when young.”

As terrible as the news about the relationship between youth sports and TBI may be, the solution is not clear.  A Google search shows that many schools are cancelling their football season, both for safety reasons and for fear of lawsuits.  However, a recent article reported parents’ dilemma:  “[We} talked about all of the risks involved with playing football, most notably the risk of concussions and head injuries that carry long-term health concerns. But we also talked about the risks of not letting our son play football. Not only did I not want to be a “dream killer” (no parent does), but I was also hesitant to waiver from a personal parenting philosophy to enthusiastically encourage controlled risk-taking.”

“Inclusion Drives Innovation” Throughout America

In addition to the President, “26 governors have joined together to show their support [for employment of disabled workers] through public proclamations, executive orders and press statements.”  Brain injury is a non-partisan issue that affects individuals from all states.  Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) noted the importance of informing the public of the skills of the disabled population this month because, “people with disabilities offer a wide range of expertise and play an integral role in our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy.” (Read to view Arkansas’ NDEAM events.)  Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) released a video to explain to his constituents the importance of the month, saying that, “our businesses and communities can greatly benefit from the integrated, competitive employment of persons with disabilities.”

Even in states that do not officially recognize NDEAM with government-sanctioned events, they still inform their citizens of brain injury and celebrate the contributions of brain injury survivors.  The Kessler Foundation in East Hanover, NJ, for example, awarded a $265,743 Grant to the University of New Hampshire on October 10, 2017, to conduct, “the first national survey to look at the effectiveness of the practices that employers use to recruit, hire, train, and retain people with disabilities in their organizations, from the unique perspective of supervisors of employees with and without disabilities.”  The article 26 Governors Celebrate Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, from which the opening quote in this article is taken, may not have it listed as a state that is honoring NDEAM, but the California Department of Rehabilitation had an open house on October 18, 2017 to inform employers on, “the various ways to create a diverse workforce that includes persons with disabilities.”

2017 NDEAM: Inclusion Drives Innovation

This past month has been a time of, “reflecting [on] the important role that different perspectives play in workforce success,” as October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  This year, President Trump issued a proclamation to honor NDEAM in which he recognized that, “every American who is willing and able to work should have the opportunity… this includes the 30 million American adults with disabilities.”  Statistically, it is unfortunate to see that NDEAM has not had enough of an effect in its 70+ years of existence.  According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for disabled Americans has risen, from 18.1 percent in September 2016 to 19.6 percent this September.  However, this is still far below the employment rate for non-disabled Americans, which was 65.5 percent in September 2016 and 66 percent this year.

President Trump referred to the above statistic, when he said that, “more employers should recognize the fresh perspectives and skills these men and women can add to an innovation-focused workforce.”  Reflecting this statement, in 2017, the theme of NDEAM has been “Inclusion Drives Innovation“.

Investigating the Memory Maze

Merriam-Webster defines dementia as a “condition (such as Alzheimer’s disease) marked by the development of multiple cognitive deficits (such as memory impairment, aphasia, and the inability to plan and initiate complex behavior).”  Though dementia is typically a progressive disease, the effects of it largely mirror those of traumatic brain injury, which can also cause long-term cognitive impairments.  Though many brain injury survivors are fortunate enough to get progressively better, it is not a surprise that scientists have found a link between the two conditions.

The written report of the results of a 2012 NIH-funded study found this link, and specifically notes that, “the recognition that certain members of society… are at particular risk of TBI-related dementia should stimulate research on preventive strategies focused on these individuals.”  It has stimulated research on the topic and presently, “The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a team of scientists and physicians from leading health care institutions across Phoenix a $1.3 million grant over three years to study traumatic brain injury and its relationship to dementia.”

Led by Dr. Jonathan Lifshitz and Dr. Raymond Migrino, the study is a cooperative effort between the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Barrow Neurological Institute and Arizona State University.  These institutions will work together to identify the negative effects of the damage to blood vessel function that is caused by traumatic brain injuries, dementia, and, surprisingly, diabetes.  The mission is to discover specifically why those who had a brain injury, particularly during their youth, are at a 4.5 times greater risk of developing dementia.

Rep. Cicilline Donates His Brain

We need to understand what happens in the brain when it’s hit, and how many hits trigger these neurological effects,” said ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Frank Pallone (D-NJ) in the opening remarks of the House Democrats meeting about brain injury in football and other contact sports on October 13, 2017.  Held at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C., the forum focused on CTE and what the government can do to prevent it.  It was a meeting of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee and featured 7 panelists – players, widows and researchers.  It was a reaction to the recent release of a study with astonishing results.  (Not only were 110 of 111 deceased NFL players found to have CTE, but so were 48 of 53 deceased college players and 3 deceased high school players.)

Those attending the forum were understandably shocked with these findings.  Many asked what they could do to help.  As Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I. – 1st District) said, “Just listening to the testimony and listening to what a serious issue this is and what the implications are for players, both young people and players who play in high school.  If we can help in some way… then I am happy to do it.”  True to his word, Cicilline, who played Pop Warner football as a youth, pledged to donate his brain for concussion research upon his death.  (As his personal motto states, Cicilline “never quits“.)

Note: In the Washington Post article about this forum, Former player: Parents should be warned of football’s risks, the newspaper notes, “Republicans had no interest in convening a formal hearing on the subject.”  This forum, however, was designed as a meeting of the House Democrats committee, therefore Republican attendance was not intended or desired.  It is also noteworthy that, although they were invited, the NFL declined to participate.

Cold War Tactics in Cuba

The Associated Press has released audio of mysterious sounds that some US diplomats and their families , as well as Canadian diplomats and families, were unknowingly subjected to in Cuba before suffering a variety of neurological problems, reports various sources.  “Some can no longer remember words, while others have hearing loss, speech problems, balance issues, nervous-system damage, headaches, ringing in the ears, and nausea. Some have shown signs of brain swelling or concussions — mild traumatic brain injuries.”  News in North America since last year, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the US State Department determined that it was most likely that these problems were “specific attacks”.  (Most likely from the Cuban government, but environmental issues or simply human error could cause such problems, too.)  Though it is known that audible attacks can be a weapon, the exact weapon used in this instance is still not known or understood.

There have been some studies showing that sound can cause brain injuries.  A study conducted by the University of Texas in 2014, for example, showed that, “prolonged exposure to loud noise alters how the brain processes speech, potentially increasing the difficulty in distinguishing speech sounds.”  Such a conclusion goes way beyond the general thought that prolonged exposure to loud noise results in hearing loss.  Additionally, there already words to describe some of the problems people have with sound.  Misophonia, literally “hatred of sound”, was proposed in 2000 as a condition in which negative emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions are triggered by specific sounds.  The more likely culprit is hyperacusis, a “debilitating hearing disorder characterized by an increased sensitivity to certain frequencies and volume ranges of sound (a collapsed tolerance to usual environmental sound).”  Causes of hyperacusis include, but are not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

However, the United States government is not wholly confident that sound caused these brain injuries.  Since there is very little way to determine if such sound came at the direction of the Cuban government or by it, it is important not to draw final conclusions.  Still, the United States has severely shrunk its embassy staff in Cuba.  Earlier this month, President Trump expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States.  Additionally, since September 29, 2017, “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba.”

The Risk Goes Beyond Gambling: Brain Injury and the 2017 Vegas Massacre

On October 1, 2017, Las Vegas was home to what is the worst domestic mass shooting in history, when Stephen Paddock took aim at the crowd at the Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip – 58 people dead and 489 injured – and subsequently took his own life.  (Note the current gun laws in the United States by state.)  Since Paddock had no history of violence and no criminal record, the police and public were and are quite confused.  Even his own brother simply says, “something went wrong in his head.”  Some sort of mental issue seems to be the most likely culprit.  This CNN article documents the possible problems Paddock may have had, writing that, “It is important to note that a tumor isn’t the only thing that can cause such changes in behavior: strokes or a traumatic brain injury can do the same.”  The article then mentions one neurodegenerative disorder, FTLD, that makes decision-making and emotional control difficult.  Brain injury, of course, also makes these tasks difficult, though through rehabilitation and support from family and friends, those with brain injuries are typically able to maintain decent control of these mental faculties.

As for his victims, I find it relatively fortunate that, at this time, I can only find articles about one living individual who acquired a brain injury from the shooting, though knowing that there are any victims with brain injuries is horrible – Maryland native Tina Frost, a concert attendee who was shot in the right eye.  “When they have to move her, she sits up on her own, rolls herself and pushes the nurses away,” Rich Frost [her father] wrote. “She calms down when we say ‘easy Tina.’ Her eye is swollen shut and she is on the ventilator and still in her coma, but it is encouraging.”  I hope for the best for her, and for the other 488 injured, and pray with the families of all those injured and of the 58 people who lost their lives.

A New Model Joins the System

Earlier this week, I reported on last week’s designation of an Indiana medical facility as the 15th TBI Model System, by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) and it’s funding therein.  This week, a facility has been designated the 16th TBI Model System and received research funds, in kind – the Southeastern Michigan Traumatic Brain Injury System (SEMTBIS).  Specifically, the Wayne State University’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (WSU) and the DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM) were awarded a five-year grant of $2.23 million to fund SEMTBIS.

Unlike some awarded Systems, SEMTBIS does not have a specific research focus.  Instead SEMTBIS is, “a program of research that studies a variety of topics related to traumatic brain injury.”  According to their website, RIM is currently host to a variety of “local and collaborative projects”: The Menopause Transition in Women with Traumatic Brain Injury, Prevention of Long-Term Consequences of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, Visual Gaze and Validity of Cognitive Evaluations, TBI Care QOL.  There is little more to report on about SEMTBIS at this moment, as their designation is so new that the Center’s webpage is still listed as, “UNDER CONSTRUCTION.”

* A school of about 27,000 students in Michigan, “Wayne State University (WSU) has the longest history of TBI research in the nation and a long history of clinical trials… [Their] interdisciplinary Program for Traumatic Brain Injury Research (PTBIR) is dedicated to campus-wide research, education and treatment of TBI.”