Traumatic brain injury in an individual may present itself in many different ways. Some symptoms of chronic moderate-severe traumatic brain injury include headaches, nausea, seizures, confusions and other changes in mood, and many others, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Another effect that occurs due to chronic moderate-severe traumatic brain injury is atrophy, or shrinkage of the brain. Atrophy can be caused by a decrease of blood flow and direct tissue damage due to the brain injury, according to Livestrong.
In a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, a group of researchers from Toronto Rehabilitation Institute found that environmental enrichment could help counter the brain shrinkage that occurs after a moderate-severe traumatic brain injury. According to a press release, environmental enrichment is comprised of “increased physical, social and cognitive stimulation.” The new research expands on the idea that moderate-severe traumatic brain injury is a progressive neurological disorder, a suggestion that only few researchers are investigating.
In the study, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to observe ongoing damage or shrinking of the brains of many participants who had traumatic brain injury. The researchers are unsure about what causes the damage and shrinkage and whether or not it eventually stops, but say “inflammation, delayed apoptosis (programmed cell death) and excessive protein accumulation may play a role,” according to the press release. They also found that the damage affects healthy cells. Due to these findings, the researchers tailored treatments to help counter brain deterioration.
All 30 participants with moderate-severe traumatic brain injury benefitted from environmental enrichment, which included activities such as reading, physical activities, socializing and solving puzzles. Five to 28 months after the patients’ injuries, the researchers saw less shrinkage of the hippocampus, which is involved with memory functioning. The researchers now endeavor to incorporate environmental enrichment into long-term rehabilitation, and will further study the different types of enrichment activities and their effects on atrophy of the brain.