We know that there's an increased risk of traumatic brain injury in older people,
and that's partly because we're living longer lives,
and we want to stay in our homes,
and we're not accommodating our home environments
to the increased risk of, for example, falls.
So, besides keeping a clean house, do we need aids to get in and out of a bathtub,
for example, something to hold on to.
These kinds of things are critical--can help prevent traumatic brain injury.
But once you've had the brain injury, there are probably 2 key areas
that are very important for health care workers to focus on.
One is how do you treat as early as possible the improper cascades
that occur in the brain that damage nervous system tissue.
Now, they're not going to change the brain so that it looks the same
after a traumatic brain injury, but they're going to try to reduce the amount of tissue damage
that occurs as early as possible.
So, that's 1 area that's receiving a lot of attention.
The other area has to do with sculpting neuroplasticity.
Are there drugs, for example, that can aid in the reorganization of neural networks
that enable a better recovery, and what about the rehabilitation treatment
that you get--the strategies, the training you receive--
how does that work, and does that enable you
to improve neuroplastic functions after a brain injury?
It's the combination of all these efforts
that people are working on now,
and we know that sometimes it could be something as trivial in improving outcome
as improving the interactions between a caregiver and a person.
There are old studies that are valid with rats that show after you give a rat a brain injury
and you put it back in the cage, it'll recover a bit.
You put it back in a cage that has a treadmill, that rat does better.
You throw that rat back in a cage with another rat, that rat does the best.
So, simply the addition of a social milieu improves outcome for a variety of reasons,
but it may be as effective and a lot cheaper to train a caregiver
to learn how to interact better with the patient
and to protect their own health, which is important as well
if they're caregiving for somebody.
It's hard to change the biology of the brain completely
in trying to treat traumatic brain injury,
so what you want to do is help the people as best they can recover
by optimizing neuroplastic changes, and that's often going to involve decisions.
It may involve decisions.
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Dr. Jordan Grafman discusses the research around aging with a TBI — from the importance of regular social interaction to the strategies for reducing tissue damage as the brain ages.
Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough, Justin Rhodes, and Erica Queen, BrainLine.
Jordan Grafman, PhD, is director of Brain Injury Research, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. His investigation of brain function and behavior contributes to advances in medicine, rehabilitation, and psychology, and informs ethics, law, philosophy, and health policy.
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