In every war, the wounded far outnumber those killed. Brain injuries are among the most common injuries in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2000, nearly 380,000 service members have suffered traumatic brain injury, also known as TBI.
At The Private Practice, we are committed to treating our service members who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and support efforts to protect them from blast-induced brain injuries.
Any number of the horrors of war can cause brain injuries. Many are the result of blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). New research has shown that firing heavy weapons often also may injure the brain, even during training. The intense pressure that comes from these high-level blasts or from firing heavy weapons affects the brain in a way that researchers have yet to pinpoint.
In a new study published in the Center for a New American Security, researchers highlight ways in which we can better protect the brains our service members from these explosive-blast pressure waves, also called primary blast-induced brain injury.
For years, the main way to protect against damage to the head and TBI has been helmets. As weapons have evolved, so have the durability and design of helmets. But the study found that the new wave of threats over the last 15 years has left our military personnel unprotected. The old helmets are woefully unsuitable for preventing TBI from blast pressure waves.
Symptoms of TBI
Traumatic brain injury can range from mild to severe. Some symptoms, many of them long-lasting, include:
- Mood swings
- Cognitive deficits
- Delayed verbal memory
- Visual-spatial memory impairments
- Impaired executive function (mental skills)
- Speech impairment
Protecting Military Service Members
While the number of brain injuries is alarming, the good news is that studies are being conducted on how to best safeguard the brains of our military personnel. It may take years to adequately research the issue of blast pressure-related injuries to understand it fully, but these service members need protection in the near term.
Recommendations about how to protect them include:
Establish long-term medical studies
The military and medical community need to improve their understanding of the association between blast pressure and TBI through longitudinal medical studies.
Improve helmet design
Studies are needed on improving the helmet design to increase protection against blast pressure with new materials, technologies, etc.
Make immediate upgrades to helmets
Based on available research, manufacturers should make immediate interim upgrades to helmets. One study suggests, for example, that blast pressure could be reduced by up to 80% if helmets had a modular face shield.
Improve soldier safety
Establish better safety measures for soldiers when they’re training with and using heavy weapons. For example, researchers should study and update firing limits for shoulder-fired heavy weapons. The current firing limits have proved to be inadequate because soldiers are still reporting cognitive issues even when firing within limits.
Use blast gauges
Soldiers should use blast gauges when training with high overpressure weapons. Blasts gauges measure blast pressure in the same way dosimeters measure the amount of radiation exposure. This information can help with safety and medical research.
Do more to protect our service members
Explore measures other than helmets and training safety guidelines to protect our military from blast waves. For example, robots could provide off-board protection from blast pressure.
What You Should Do if You Have TBI
At The Private Practice, Jerry W. Morris, DO, has more than 40 years of experience treating military personnel and athletes for concussions and other forms of TBI. He offers several effective treatments to help get you back to optimal health.
Call our Southlake, Texas, office for information or book online for a consultation with Dr. Morris.