Those who treat traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients may not be taking advantage of new scientific discoveries about the workings of the brain, according to scientists in a special issue of Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences.
A press release from the University of Illinois notes that instead, researchers write in the study, “Network Topology and Dynamics in Traumatic Brain Injury,” doctors, nurses, and emergency personnel rely on the Glasgow coma scale to categorize brain injuries as mild, moderate, or severe.
Brain scans are sometimes performed to identify the injured regions, the release continues, and then most patients receive one or more of the following four diagnoses: coma (no response to sensory stimulation), delirium (impaired ability to sustain attention), amnesia (impaired memory), and dysexecutive syndrome (impaired ability to engage in goal-directed thought). However, Aron Barbey, PhD—a professor in the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, and the first author of the study—notes in the release that these classifications reveal little about the underlying mechanisms that are damaged as a result of brain trauma.
Instead, according to the release, he and his colleagues propose that doctors take a deeper look at the brain networks that enable the regulation and control of attention, memory, and thought—termed “cognitive control processes”—and use this knowledge to develop more targeted treatment strategies.
“An emerging area of research seeks to develop better ways to assess traumatic brain injury,” Barbey says in the release. “Recent findings demonstrate that multiple, interdependent brain networks drive and organize cognition. It is these networks that are highly susceptible to brain injury.”
Understanding which brain networks are damaged in brain-injured patients will help doctors better predict the kinds of impairments their patients will experience, the release says, and guide clinical treatment and therapy.
To that end, the release notes, researchers in their study recommend using therapies that have shown promise in strengthening specific cognitive control functions. Many methods familiar to cognitive neuroscience are reported to be little used in patient therapy, and they should be tested in patient populations, the release continues. These include transcranial direct-current brain stimulation, which, targets specific brain networks, and physical fitness training, which delivers global benefits for brain health.
According to Barbey in the release, research indicates that brain stimulation can be applied to specific brain networks to enhance their ability to respond optimally to cognitive rehabilitation. Also, he notes, physical fitness is known to promote brain health and therefore may enhance resilience to brain injury.
“The goal is to develop more precise assessment standards for traumatic brain injury and to translate discoveries from cognitive neuroscience into effective clinical therapies that promote recovery from brain injury,” he says in the release.
[Source: University of Illinois]