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Salt Lake City Personal Injury Law Blog

Older adults may recover from traumatic brain injury

Some older Utah residents who sustain a traumatic brain injury as the result of a fall or other type of accident may respond well to surgery, according to a study from Helsinki University Hospital. The researchers looked at patients with acute subdural hematomas but no other injuries to brain tissue and found that while older patients have generally been considered poor candidates for surgery, this may no longer be the case.

Because lifespans are getting longer, falls by older adults are also becoming more common. Surgery for acute subdural hematomas has a high risk of mortality or morbidity even with young patients. However, according to the study, older adults for whom the surgery is a success have the same expected lifespan as their peers once they recover. The key was that these adults were conscious when brought in for treatment after the fall, were already living independent lives, and did not have heart disease that required taking anticoagulants. Every adult in the study who was unconscious, not independent or who had been taking anticoagulants had died within one year of the study.

Doctors say concussions are a silent epidemic

Concussions have made headlines in Utah and nationwide in recent years over concerns that professional athletes are suffering debilitating head injuries on the playing field. In fact, a new study by the largest brain bank in the United States showed that 87 out of 91 former NFL players tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive blows to the head. However, many people don't realize how common and insidious concussions are in the general public.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are almost 4 million concussions each year from sports and recreational activities alone. Unfortunately, health experts say the general public lacks awareness about the symptoms of head trauma, which means many people fail to seek the medical care they need. Left untreated, concussions can cause depression, memory loss and dementia. Doctors say that approximately 80 percent of people who suffer a concussion recover in about three weeks. However, other patients suffer serious, long-term problems, such as headaches, confusion and irritability. Older people, women and those who suffer multiple concussions are more likely to experience long-term cognitive issues.

Cheerleading-related injuries growing more serious

Cheerleading has been a tradition in Utah high schools for decades, but in recent years it has evolved into a competitive sport in its own right. Cheerleaders perform complex stunts, working and practicing long hours to execute them correctly, and the potential for serious injury exists.

Cheerleading is one of the leading sports-related causes of serious injuries to female athletes. The extreme nature of the acrobatic stunts they perform, combined with the fatigue from strenuous routines and the pressure that comes with competitive sports, can easily cause serious accidents. Nationwide, cheerleading accidents account for about half of all the injuries to female athletes that medical personnel would describe as "catastrophic." What's more, there is a tendency for these injuries to occur to the neck, head and brain. Approximately one third of all cheerleading-related injuries happen in the head area, dramatically raising the risk of a traumatic brain injury.

Autonomous cars and accident liability

In the last few years, greater numbers of automakers have started to create self-driving or at least partially autonomous vehicles. Google is probably the best known for its self-driving cars, but Volvo is also working on its own self-driving vehicle, and Mercedes-Benz is getting ready to make a car with semiautonomous driving features available for Utah drivers.

Part of the reason that so many automakers have been interested in creating self-driving vehicles is because nearly all car accidents are due to driver error. However, there still are still some crashes that result from impossible situations, where no matter what someone does, an accident will still result.

Brain injury patients and brain tissue stretching

Utah brain injury victims may find interest in scientific research that examines the way that brain tissue reacts to trauma. According to one researcher, the brain does not bounce around within the skull as is commonly believed but rather moves like gelatin. The brain cells warp as the skull is jostled by the impact of trauma, such as a car accident. Brain cells can die well before the tissue itself begins to tear, which means that traumatic brain injuries are not always obvious soon after an accident.

The most common causes of TBIs include sports injuries, car accidents and falls. TBIs account for 30 percent of injury-related deaths in the United States, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there is no standard available treatment for TBIs, researchers explain that prevention is the best option. One research team hopes to prevent the initial stages of brain damage from regressing.

Traumatic brain injuries and early detection

Utah residents should be aware of a recent neuroimaging study that suggests that the longer patients wait to receive brain imaging, the harder microbleeding in the brain is to detect. One study examined 603 military service members who had been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. Seven percent of those patients were also found to have microbleeding on the brain, a condition which commonly leads to such secondary conditions as brain swelling and stroke.

Researchers found that MRI scans enable physicians to detect microbleeding sooner, while scans that are performed months or more than a year after the injury are not as successful. Patients who were scanned within three months of a traumatic brain injury had a 24 percent detection rate. Patients who were scanned after one year had a detection rate of only 5.2 percent.

Using cellphones on the roadways

Residents in Utah may benefit from understanding more about some of the recent research done on motorists who use cellphones while driving. As of the release of this research, about 90 percent of adults in the United States own a smartphone. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, no less than 12 percent of the deaths on U.S. roadways are attributable to texting and calling on a cellphone.

The NHTSA claims that during 2012, distracted driving was related to over 3,300 deaths and more than 420,000 injuries. A study involving 700 San Diego residents indicates that not only teens, but most adults, use their cellphones while operating a motor vehicle. There's already been research indicating that the popular hands-free applications that many motorists use can diminish their reaction time below the legal limit.

Drowsy driving is a problem similar to drunk driving

Utah residents might not know that drowsy driving poses a danger that is similar to drunk driving, as this behavior is estimated to be responsible for 25 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents that take place each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anyone could drive while drowsy, but accidents involving fatigued drivers usually take place on interstates and occur at night.

Drowsy driving and drunk driving are similar because one's cognitive abilities are impaired, and drowsy drivers can veer off the road or fail to try to prevent an accident much like intoxicated drivers with slower reaction times. Drowsy and drunk driving also tend to lead to more severe accidents. Drowsy driving may be more dangerous than drunk driving because it is harder to spot a fatigued driver, and there is no test that measures sleep deprivation as there is with intoxication.

Brain trauma in Utah

Utah physicians who are presented with people suffering from head injuries may have a better way to predict their patients' recoveries and outcomes. Recently, researchers have developed a blood test that detects levels of a protein in the cerebrum, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, that has been shown to decrease after trauma. Until now, doctors have had to rely on computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans to identify injuries, but the images are generally only useful in detecting intracranial bleeds.

The studies involved identifying three different proteins that play a part in the brain's neural activity. BDNF proved to be one element that showed a significant change in levels after brain injury. When compared with a control group, BDNF rates displayed decreases from 60 to over 90 percent in samples drawn with 24 hours after the accidents occurred.

Rollover accidents involving trucks hauling cargo tanks

Utah residents often take extra precautions when in close proximity to large commercial vehicles transporting hazardous materials. Accidents involving semi-tractor trailers frequently cause catastrophic injuries, but the risks are even higher when the truck involved is hauling a tank containing crude oil, flammable gas or other petroleum products. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration looked into the causes of rollover accidents involving trucks hauling cargo tanks that occurred in 2007, and it concluded that driver error was most frequently cited as the cause.

According to the FMCSA data, driver errors contributed to more than three quarters of the rollover accidents involving tanker trucks in that year. The agency also found that the overwhelming majority of these errors occurred as drivers tried to compensate for earlier mistakes such as falling asleep while driving or losing focus due to a distraction. Fatigue and inattention were associated with one out of five rollover accidents, and inattentive drivers running off the road was the leading cause of serious crashes.

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