Attrition: Looking For Mild Traumatic Brain Injury


August 29, 2007: The U.S. Army has developed a new test for detecting soldiers who have suffered a mild, and normally undetectable, case of mild TBI (traumatic brain injury). This is also known as a concussion, and is more common because more troops are being exposed to roadside bombs. Most of these explosions do not cause any obvious injuries to troops, even though their vehicles may be damaged. Mild TBI has long been an area of research in sports medicine, and veterans hospitals have many cases of World War II, Korea and Vietnam vets eventually developing other problems because of long ago combat actions that left them with mild TBI. Any kind of explosion can cause mild TBI, and over a third of troops in combat get mild TBI. For most of them, there are no long term consequences. But as with football or hockey players who have been knocked on the head one time too many, there is sometimes long term damage. Until the 1980s, there was no hard evidence that mild TBI had long term consequences. But research identified and verified that there were long term effects in some victims. Before that, all that was known about the problem were the many anecdotal stories about people "not being the same" after getting a concussion.

The new test takes about 20 minutes, and measures reaction time, problem solving speed, and various memory skills. Changes over time can indicate the onset of long term problems with mild TBI. Troops departing for a combat zone, and returning, will take the test. Knowing that a solider has mild TBI makes it possible to quickly treat any side effects, or conditions that will get worse over time. The long term effects include damage to hearing, eyesight, sense of smell and changes in personality.


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