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The brain doesn’t heal itself, right? Wrong. Scientists have been researching how the brain heals itself since 1999. Now new techniques are making that process smoother, helping patients heal after suffering a traumatic brain injury.
For a long time, conventional knowledge said that brain neurons (nerve cells), could not heal themselves. For traumatic brain injury (TBI), though, the prognosis was bleak.
Despite popular belief to the contrary, traumatic brain injury victims have a real promise for healing. A 1999 study by Fred “Rusty” Gage at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies demonstrated that human brains can create new neurons until at least 72 years of age.
Researchers have used that knowledge to help patients relearn skills and rewire their brains so they can heal. According to Dr. Michael Lobatz, a neurologist with the La Jolla-based Scripps Health network:
“There are a number of things that occur in the brain as a person either spontaneously recovers or is in the process of doing rehabilitation. . . No 1, you get new connections growing from one part of the brain to the other to fill that void. Two, when people go to therapy, they strengthen what is weak and adapt to those things that cannot be changed.”
Traumatic brain injury treatment today can take many forms, including retraining the brain to use undamaged areas, replacing lost abilities using prosthetics, and repairing damage using stem cell therapy.
Robotics can help patients with repetitive movements. Where physical therapists can help a patient repeat a motion 50 – 60 times in one session, a robot can perform hundreds of repetitions. This helps strengthen neural connections and speed traumatic brain injury recovery.
Dr. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin, uses a machine to send electrical impulses into the injured brain through receptors in the tongue. This direct neural pathway stimulates the brain and helps it to heal.
Some military hospitals are using ancient medical arts including acupuncture, aroma therapy, and winding floor labyrinths. These non-traditional medical treatments help soldiers suffering TBI to stimulate their brains in new ways. The National Intrepid Center of Excellence blends these ancient techniques with advanced neuro-imaging and virtual reality simulators with great success. Of the Intrepid Spirit Center’s 1,800 patients in 2014, 92 percent have been certified to return to active duty.
The human brain is constantly adapting to its surroundings, and those changes do not stop because of a traumatic brain injury. That’s why TBI victims need top-notch medical expertise to give them every chance available to heal.
David Christensen is a brain injury expert with Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He and his team help TBI victims get their medical expenses covered so they can focus on healing without worrying about the cost. If you or someone you know has suffered a traumatic brain injury, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.