While treatment of anoxic brain injury depends on the cause, some of the more familiar methods include barbiturates to slow down brain activity, medications such as steroids to reduce swelling, oxygen therapy, hyperbaric treatments, and cooling techniques.
For anoxic injury survivors who have tried the “old” methods and are hoping for a new and improved approach, there aren’t a whole lot of options to choose from, but we wanted to make sure people were aware of one treatment that, so far, has some significant promise.
Anoxic brain injuries are due to a restricted or cutoff flow of oxygen to the brain. The brain, starved of oxygen, is unable to perform its usual functions and cells begin to die. The more limited the flow, the more damage is done. Injuries run the gamut depending on the length of time the brain goes without this vital requirement, from memory impairment to a loss of speech and the ability to communicate. Causes include everything from attempted suicide by hanging to assault – anything that can potentially cut off the flow of blood to the head.
Not long ago, it was discovered that the use of a drug meant to treat insomnia had an intriguing side affect: it could temporarily improve the brain function in a patient who developed akinetic mutism (the inability to speak or move) due to a failed suicide attempt by hanging. The anoxic brain injury she suffered was “reversed” for up to three hours after taking this medication called zolpidem.
She could walk, talk, and read during the time the drug was effective. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans showed that the drug increased her brain metabolism allowing for a temporary return of her cognitive abilities. The study of this particular patient suggests that her recovery may be due to an activation of neural circuits in her brain that control movement and speech.
The study, printed in Annals of Neurology, March 2007, wasn’t the first of its kind or the last. There are a handful of others that show zolpidem’s effectiveness in temporarily improving a variety of anoxic damage results.
With additional therapy such as physical, occupational, speech, and neuropsychology, could this drug make a real difference in the lives of those with anoxic brain injuries?
Until more studies are done, we have no way of telling for sure just how many people might benefit from this drug or others like it. Recovery can take months, years, and often it’s never achieved. We can help by spreading the word about lesser known treatments, trials, and studies. Ask your doctor, subscribe to neurology publications, and most of all, don’t give up hope!
Image from here.