Brain injury concern extends to war veterans

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Brain damage from boxing is old news; NFL players, owners and their lawyers are dealing with the issue. Brain injuries from repeated impact is of concern down through the college and high school ranks and especially younger athletes, when the brain is more vulnerable.

It's not just football or boxing, however; some soccer coaches are refusing to conduct "heading" drills with younger players and helmets are a must for bicyclists and skateboarders.

The time when commentators joked about a player "having his bell rung" are long gone.

It should not be that surprising, then, that VA scientists are finding the brains of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, caught near roadside bomb explosions, show signs of premature aging, even when they didn't feel anything from the blast.

A Journal of Neurology study published online Monday found that the connections in the brains of those veterans deteriorated faster than expected, affecting executive function, memory and planning at an earlier age.

Even worse, many of the veterans studied said they never felt concussion-like symptoms such as dizziness, headaches or loss of consciousness. Others did experience such symptoms, but they went away and military docs cleared them for regular duty.

In both cases, however, brain scans showed signs of degeneration and early aging.

Why worry about the problem?

Check out the numbers. An estimated 2.7 million Americans served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and almost 1.9 milion are veterans, 60 percent of them receiving treatment from the VA.

We don't know how many Americans were actually exposed to them, but there were 47,000 IED bomb attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing more than 3,000 troops and injuring 10 times that number.

Ironically, the body armor the troops wore and the armored vehicles they rode in may have masked their injuries.

It's becoming more and more apparent, whether it's sports, recreation or war, we need to take better care of the gray matter inside our skulls.

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