Is it a New Cold War or Nothing?

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.  (Click link to hear sound.)  “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.”

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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.”

IU Awarded Funding to Decrease the Anger Effect

Last week, Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine, in partnership with the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, was granted $2.1 million from a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a five-year study to research a particularly negative, life-long possible effect of a traumatic brain injury: an increase of negative thoughts and generalized anger.  “Our… projects will study emotional self-awareness and the ability to reduce irritability and aggression through treatment,” said Dr. Hammond, who is the Chair of the IU School of Medicine Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, a Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and also the chief of medical affairs at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana.  Ultimately, the purpose of this study goes beyond the determination of a link.  “We hope to help patients and families better manage the effects of brain injury,” she continued.

With this funding, IU joins 15 other facilities, as part of the National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research’s (NIDILRR) Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems.  Located in every section of the United States, “these centers serve as platforms for collaborative, multi-site research, including research on interventions using randomized controlled approaches.”

Beyond research, though, NIDILRR systems also focus on treatment.  For example, “the objectives of the New York Traumatic Brain Injury Model System focus on improving the quality of life of persons with TBI through: 1] state-of-the-art clinical care, 2] innovative research and 3] multi-platform, extensive dissemination of research results and other information on TBI to consumers and professionals.”  Specifically related to the most recent funding mentioned above, IU’s BRAIN (Brain Research in Aggression and Irritability Network) is, “a comprehensive model service delivery and research system serving individuals with TBI.”