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Health, Science & Environment

OSU study shows traumatic brain injuries require lifelong care


Researchers at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine are shedding new light on the long-term prognosis for people who suffer traumatic brain injuries.

What are often called TBIs are thought to affect more 1.5 million Americans each year.

The injuries can lead to problems with cognitive function, memory, mood and mobility—and those struggles often continue long after treatment.

“Traumatic brain injury occurs as a result of an external force. So, it's something outside of the brain that impacts the brain and causes the brain to move inside of the skull such that it's damaged,” said Jennifer Bogner, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at OSU’s College of Medicine.

Through an ongoing longitudinal study of 1,400 patients, Bogner and her fellow researchers discovered that traumatic brain injuries do not stabilize after a couple of years as previously thought.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, checks in with TBI patients annually for two years following their injury and every five years thereafter for the rest of their lives.

Phone calls include discussions about their progress and setbacks, as well as common issues for those with TBIs, such as mental health disorders and substance abuse.

“Essentially, what we're finding is that people fluctuate that the changes after brain injury are dynamic, that people can show improvements, they can also show decline,” Bogner said.

In one part of the study, Bogner explained, about half of TBI patients were showing more improvements than decline from five to 10 years after brain injury, but about 20 percent were declining more than they were improving.

“So, it's not a straightforward picture. It's certainly much more complex than we ever thought,” Bogner said.

As Bogner and other researchers analyzed more than 25 years of data, they concluded that TBIs need to be treated as a dynamic and chronic condition that requires ongoing resources and care.

Right now, Bogner said, most TBI patients only receive care during the first six to 12 months post-injury—and that needs to change.

"The vast majority of folks aren't getting followed by a physician specializing in traumatic brain injury after that first year or so, despite the fact that we know that changes are going to be occurring and that physicians without training and traumatic brain injury and other clinicians and other service providers may not know exactly what this individual would need or how to adapt their services for traumatic brain injury,” Bogner said.

Health, Science & Environment traumatic brain injury
Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.