Doctors and researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University recently made novel use of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in order to scan the brains of 20 concussion patients to determine once and for all whether or not concussions involve traumatic injury to the brain. The DTI scans revealed subtle brain damage in 15 of the 20 patients.
The results of the DTI study hold much promise for the over 1 million Americans who get concussions each year. Most concussion patients experience a full recovery and return to full mental functioning over time, but upwards of 30% of concussion patients suffer long term symptoms such as personality change and inability to perform complex planning and organizational tasks.
Doctors currently diagnose concussions by examining patients’ accident histories and checking for the most common symptoms, which include headaches, shifts in behavior and personality, and dizziness. This approach has proven ineffective since it does not allow doctors to distinguish between which patients will recover fully, and which patients will exhibit long-term symptoms.
DTI scanning may now provide more objective diagnosis of concussion and allow doctors to more accurately diagnose actual brain injury following a concussion. The DTI scans may also give doctors the ability to predict whether or not concussion patients will suffer from a loss of the ability to make decisions, organize complex tasks, and efficient management of their time. In the Radiology study, the 15 patients whose brains showed actual damage also performed more poorly than the control group and the 5 non-brain-damaged patients on executive function tests.
Researchers hope that DTI diagnosis will allow doctors to begin treating more severe concussion-based brain injuries immediately following the injury, which could decrease the chances of long term loss of executive functioning. By initiating cognitive rehabilitation therapy early in the brain injury treatment process, doctors may be able to reduce the amount of sustained long-term damage.
Doctors have long suspected, but have never before been able to objectively demonstrate, a link between concussions and actual brain tissue damage. Now that this link has been clearly demonstrated and understood, researchers can focus on developing more efficient and useful treatments for serious concussions.