Despite their prevalence, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) remain a major cause of death and disability, and one that scientists and medical professionals still don’t fully understand. It’s estimated that more than 1.4 million people in the United States suffer a TBI each year, and 50,000 of those people end up dying from those injuries.
Adding to the complexity, we aren’t sure how TBIs unfold over the long term; we know they may have lasting effects into adulthood, increasing the possibility to develop dementia and other cognitive problems, but the exact path for this development isn’t known.
Fortunately, a wealth of new technologies are hoping to better understand the nature of TBIs, and hopefully, treat them in a way that reduces their long-term effects.
What We Know About TBIs
TBIs can occur during any physical activity; in fact, the majority of TBI cases are caused by falls, especially in the context of residential incidents. If you hit your head (such as if you slip and fall), or if something falls on or impacts your head, you could be at risk for a TBI. Falls, car accidents, intentional blows, and sports-related collisions are all common sources.
The term is broad, and applies to almost any injury to the brain, including concussions. Mild TBIs are usually associated with temporary loss of consciousness and fleeting impairments, such as blurry vision or an inability to think clearly. More severe TBIs can cause a loss of consciousness for extended periods of time and/or significant memory loss. They may even lead to long-term impairments, such as cognitive decline and memory difficulties.
So what types of technology are helping us understand TBIs even better?
Finding and Diagnosing TBIs
First, we’re seeing the emergence of tech that can help us find and diagnose TBIs more accurately—and in some cases, more promptly. For example, the Linx Impact Assessment System (IAS) is a wearable tracking device that incorporates an accelerometer and other sensors to evaluate the severity of head impacts. It fits beneath most hats and helmets, and helps medical professionals (as well as coaches on the field) determine how hard a person has been hit during an athletic event. This is important because it’s not always obvious when someone has been hit hard—and taking proactive action is imperative to support the fullest possible recovery.
The IAS is just one of many new measurement and diagnostic tech devices. There’s also the Blast Gauge System, which was originally developed for applications related to the military, SWAT teams, and special forces. This device transmits data instantly and constantly to medical personnel, so they can swoop in and take action if an injury occurs.
Helmets and Protection
Other tech innovators are trying to address the problem by creating better helmets and more forms of protection for the people most vulnerable to TBIs—athletes. For example, there’s the VCIS ZERO1 helmet, now considered one of the safest football helmets on the market, which is designed to absorb the majority of any impact, protecting the head and brain of the wearer from all but the most severe impacts.
If we can’t make progress in understanding the nature of concussions and TBIs, we can at least reduce their rate of occurrence. Despite our limitations in understanding, it’s clear that any direct injury to the head is a bad thing, and better protective equipment could help us limit those.
Big Data and Predictive Analytics
TBIs are hard to analyze and understand because of how many variables are in play. The brain is an incredibly complex organ, and TBIs are a complex type of injury, in part because there are so many conceivable variations.
But doctors and researchers may be able to gain more insight into how TBIs work by utilizing the power of big data and predictive analytics. As our measurement and diagnostic technology improves, medical professionals will have access to more information. Combine that with AI-driven predictive analytics algorithms, and we could produce more accurate, more applicable models for how TBIs form. And with that understanding, we may discover high-tech ways to treat those injuries—or maybe prevent them altogether.
We’re still in the earliest stages of progress for understanding the nature of TBIs, but that isn’t stopping researchers and engineers from trying their best to make progress on their treatment. The more we invest in this area, the faster we’ll understand exactly how TBIs work—and the more instances we’ll be able to prevent.