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Study: Car crash mTBI impact far worse than thought

January 22, 2018 by Steven M. Gursten

Research showed that half – rather than 15% – of individuals with a single mTBI or mild traumatic brain injury demonstrate long-term cognitive impairment; car accidents are number 1 cause of mTBI in U.S.

Car accidents are a leading cause of mTBI-related deaths and injuries

It’s disingenuous and misleading when insurance company claims adjusters and defense lawyers try to minimize a car accident victim’s mTBI (or mild traumatic brain injury) by claiming the injury victim “should be over it by now.”

Now, we can add to that and say it’s also scientifically invalid, as well as disingenuous and misleading, thanks to ground-breaking new research on brain injury.

In their article, “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) and chronic cognitive impairment: A scoping review,” published in the April 11, 2017, issue of PLOS ONE, Canadian researchers from Dalhousie University debunked the implausible notion pedaled by auto insurance adjusters and defense lawyers that mTBI victims are fully recovered in 3 months or less.

With the goal of “investigating the impact mTBI has on cognitive function long after a single concussive injury,” the scientists and researchers concluded:

  • “[I]n contrast to the prevailing view that most symptoms of concussion are resolved within 3 months post-injury [for approximately 85% of mTBI victims],” in actuality, “approximately half of individuals with a single mTBI demonstrate long-term cognitive impairment.”
  • “The findings from our scoping review do not support the conclusions of previous reports that a single mTBI leads to PCS [post-concussion syndrome] in 15% of individuals in the chronic stage injury [more than 3 months post-injury], and that the other 85% will see resolution of symptoms during the acute phase [3 months or less post-injury]. In contrast, we show that a large proportion of individuals with a single mTBI will continue to demonstrate measurable impairment in various cognitive domains including executive function, learning/memory, attention, processing speed, and language function long after the initial injury.”

This is an important study because it confirms what car accident lawyers like myself and the attorneys, doctors, brain injury professionals who regularly help mTBI and TBI survivors and their families have known for a long time.

There’s nothing “mild” about mTBI or mild traumatic brain injury and, for far more people than adjusters and defense lawyers would care to admit, its effects don’t just disappear in a few months.

As this research shows, one mTBI from a car accident or any other trauma or blow to the head can last a lifetime.

What is an mTBI or mild traumatic brain injury?

The researchers explained:

“Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), more commonly known as concussion, is the most common type of traumatic brain injury …”  It has been described by the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine “as a mild insult to the head that results in a brief period of unconsciousness followed by impaired cognitive function,” along with “an array of symptoms, most notably headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety and irritability, collectively referred to as post-concussion syndrome (PCS).”

What cognitive impairment is associated with mTBI?

The researchers explained:

Cognitive impairment related to mTBI includes “executive function, learning and memory, attention and processing speed …”

What are the immediate effects of mTBI?

The research is clear that mTBI has an immediate effect on its victims:

  • “Evidence indicates that a single concussion can disrupt the neurological mechanisms underlying cognition.”
  • “It is well established that a single mTBI results in pathophysiological changes in the brain,” such as “altered white matter structure and function (e.g., diffuse axonal injury, DAI) as well as the so called ‘neurometabolic cascade’ that is characterized by altered neurotransmitter activity and subsequently altered levels of brain excitability … While not observed using conventional imaging, DAI has been found in numerous brain regions following a single mTBI using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) … Abnormal integrity of white matter tracts has even been observed in the absence of a clinical diagnosis of concussion.”

What has been the conventional thought about mTBI recovery?

The researchers noted the following about conventional thought on recovery time following an mTBI:

  • It has been believed that mTBI symptoms “resolve in the majority of individuals” (85%) in “approximately 3 months,” even though “some individuals continue to experience symptoms beyond 1 year post-injury.”
  • Those mTBI survivors who continue to experience symptoms “are said to experience persistent PCS [post-concussion syndrome],” which is “estimated to impact 15% of individuals with a first-time concussion.”

What is the relationship between mTBI and car accidents?

On its “Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion” page, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the statistics about the relationship between auto accidents and traumatic brain injuries, including mTBI:

  • “Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of [TBI-related] death for persons 5-24 years of age” in 2013.
  • “Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of [TBI-related injuries requiring hospitalization] for adolescents and persons 15-44 years of age” in 2013.
  • “Among all age groups, motor vehicle crashes were the third overall leading cause of TBI-related ED visits, hospitalizations, and deaths (14%). When looking at just TBI-related deaths, motor vehicle crashes were the third leading cause (19%) in 2013.”

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