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Brain injury

Concussion and Alzheimer’s: further links established

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Brain changes seen through concussion have close similarities with those seen in Alzheimer’s disease, new research has found. 

TBIs affect millions of people worldwide every year and are often followed by changes in brain structure and function and by cognitive problems such as memory deficits, impaired social function and difficulty with decision-making. 

Although mild TBI — also known as concussion — is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, prior studies haven’t quantified the extent to which these conditions share patterns of neural degeneration in the brain.

But in new research from USC, the link between TBI and Alzheimer’s has become significantly clearer, researchers say, with potential to predict those at greater risk. 

“These findings are the first to suggest that cognitive impairment following a traumatic brain injury is useful for predicting the magnitude of Alzheimer’s-like brain degradation,” says study author Andrei Irimia, from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. 

“The results may help health professionals to identify TBI victims who are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”

The USC study analysed included 33 people with TBIs due to a fall, another 66 participants who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and 81 healthy control participants without either TBI or Alzheimer’s. 

The researchers analysed MRIs of the patients’ brains and created additional computer-generated models to compare dozens of different brain structures, ultimately mapping similarities and differences between the three different groups.

In multiple brain areas of both TBI and Alzheimer’s participants, the researchers found reduced cortical thickness when compared to the healthy controls. 

Cortical thickness is roughly correlated with brain age and its thinning is often associated with reductions in attention, memory and verbal fluency, as well as with decreased ability to make decisions, integrate new information and adapt behaviour to new situations, among other deficits.

Brain injury

New cycle helmet test discovers true level of protection for cyclists

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The effectiveness of bike helmets in protecting against brain injuries caused by collisions at speed has been tested for the first time. 

New helmet technologies have emerged in recent years to mitigate the instances and severity of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in collisions from cycling, but the way this is traditionally tested leaves room for doubt in their findings. 

The majority of real-world cycling-based TBIs are caused by rotational forces on the brain, which are generated by the head hitting the ground at an oblique angle, mostly seen when cyclists fall or collide while moving. 

However, current methods test whether heads are protected from falls at right-angles, which happen mostly when bikes are stationary, and do not account for the rotational forces at play when cyclists fall to the ground at speed.

Now, a new Imperial College London paper has demonstrated a new simulation-enabled helmet testing technique that tests how well helmets protect heads from rotational forces.

Testing 27 different helmets in a purpose-built rig at Research Institutes of Sweden, the project found that newer technologies reduced whole-brain strain compared with older helmets. 

However, they also found that the effectiveness of newer helmets depended on their technology and location of impact – some helmets which were designed specifically to reduce rotational forces didn’t appear to accomplish their aims.

Its findings could be significant in ensuring future safety innovations in cycling helmets, the research team said. 

“The amount of people cycling since the COVID-19 pandemic began has doubled on weekdays and trebled on weekends in parts of the UK,” says lead author Fady Abayazid, of Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering.

“To keep themselves safe, it’s important cyclists know the best way to protect their heads should they have a fall or collision.

“Cyclists falling from motion will most often hit the ground at a non-right-angle. These angles produce rotational forces that subject the brain to twisting and shearing forces – factors contributing to severe TBIs, which can be life-altering. 

“However, current testing standards for bike helmets don’t account for this issue, so we designed a new analysis method to address this gap by combining experimental oblique impacts with a highly detailed computational model of the human brain.”

Senior author Dr Mazdak Ghajari, also of Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering, adds: “With cycling’s popularity soaring, we are seeing more requests from the public and cycling communities for a thorough review of new helmet technologies to inform their purchases. 

“However, this is hard to do without testing that accounts for rotational forces.

“Our research could help to address this gap, inform customers, improve safety, and reduce the frequency and severity of TBIs from cycling.”

The authors are now looking into testing standards for motorbike and industrial helmets and the Dyson School of Design Engineering has also just built its own rig to carry out future experimental helmet impact tests.

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Brain injury

Calvert Reconnections strengthens senior team ahead of opening

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A groundbreaking neurorehabilitation centre is helping to plan for its future even before its opening through strengthening its management team. 

Calvert Reconnections is set to open on June 21 and is set to deliver new possibilities in brain injury rehabilitation through its UK-first residential programme which combines traditional clinical therapies with physical outdoor activities. 

The centre, based on the outskirts of Keswick in the Lake District, is now making new additions to its senior team as is prepares for its long-awaited opening, which has previously been delayed due to COVID-19. 

Claire Appleton has become head of service at Calvert Reconnections with Lorna Mulholland appointed as registered manager. 

Claire, an occupational therapist, has 23 years’ experience working in the NHS and has held various community roles including in acquired brain injury, long-term neurological conditions, neurological splinting and stroke rehab.  

Five years ago, Claire moved into a management post in the NHS leading the Eden Community Rehab Team, developing strategic specialist leadership and management skills, and gaining valuable experience delivering high quality health services.

Lorna has 12 years’ specialist experience within the social care sector, principally in acquired brain injury, learning disabilities, mental health and autism. 

She has an extensive knowledge base in delivering care within a residential and supported living setting with experience in complex challenging behaviour.

Sean Day, centre director at Calvert Reconnections, says: “As part of our senior management team, Claire and Lorna have a key role to play in the delivery of our service.  

“Everyone at Calvert Reconnections take great pride in what we do and the difference we can make to people’s lives.”

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Brain injury

UFC adopts concussion protocols for MMA fighters

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An official concussion protocol has been created for mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters competing in the UFC, in a first for the sport which builds further on global efforts to safeguard sportspeople from the effects of head injury. 

The UFC Performance Institute has published its protocol, aimed at both fighters and coaches, as part of a 484-page study based on data collected between 2017 and 2019.  

Hailed as the most comprehensive MMA study ever undertaken, it details the UFC’s five-step rules around returning to the sport following concussion or TBI. 

“The goal is we really want to support the ongoing development and performance behaviours and activities in the MMA gyms in the combat community globally,” says Duncan French, the UFC’s vice president of performance. 

“We are slowly aggregating our own insights and our information here in the Performance Institute, and we want to share that. We don’t want the PI to become an ivory tower where the information is only retained for a discrete 600 roster of fighters.”

Further investigation into any different needs for female fighters will be undertaken, the vice president adds. 

“Now, we need to do more work to understand how we can potentially support the ladies if they do have a concussion,” says Duncan. 

“Because that method, that approach to return to play following a concussion in females, might need to be different.”

In the new protocol, the details its return-to-sport approach as being similar to that of the NFL, beginning with up to two days of rest, followed by two stages of no-contact workouts. 

The UFC wants fighters to use its concussion assessment tool, the SCAT5, to monitor progress, and as they improve, fighters can go from no-contact workouts to moderate contact, although still with minimal risk of head contact. 

The final stage includes a return to sparring, and the UFC PI recommends starting with one session each week with no more than three rounds of five minutes, gradually adding more over a period of four weeks until they reach two full sparring sessions of five rounds per session. 

Returning to full contact will need medical clearance, the protocol states.

“For brain injuries like concussion, even if you are feeling symptom-free, a fighter should go through all stages of a return-to-sport protocol to ensure a full brain recovery,” the report says. 

“Further, resuming activity too quickly, especially in contact sports like MMA, not only increases the risk of subsequent musculoskeletal injuries and longer recovery times but also further concussions (e.g. second-impact syndrome) which can lead to chronic neurological conditions, permanent disability and death.”

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