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Can Electric Stimulation Help a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) — even when considered “mild” — can have a major impact on daily life, and cyclists are some of the most prone to the potentially life-altering injury.

Symptoms such as headache, tiredness, blurred vision, dizziness, and confusion can last days or weeks after the accident that causes the injury, but memory problems can persist, even long after other symptoms have waned. For bicycle riders in particular, this can be troublesome. In addition to hindering quality of life, it makes returning to the road much more difficult and potentially dangerous for all road users.

“We have patients whose family cannot leave them alone at home because they will turn on the stove and forget to turn it off,” says Dr. Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, director of the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, describing his TBI patients to NPR. The bicycle attorneys at Bay Area Bicycle Law have seen similar situations time and time again after clients suffer head injuries in bicycle accidents.

The doctor and his colleagues have been testing a treatment that delivers a pulse of electricity to the brain in order to boost memory recall. The research team reported in July 2023 that participants improved recall by about 20% as a precisely-timed pulse was sent to the brain. In all, the electric stimulation reduced memory deficit by about half, according to the study published in the journal Brain Stimulation.

“Memory loss resulting from traumatic, infectious, or inflammatory insults to the brain constitutes one of the major health challenges affecting populations worldwide,” the researchers say. “Disability resulting from traumatic brain injury (TBI), in particular, affects 1–2% of the population and often results in a profound and specific impairment in episodic memory, preventing affected individuals from maintaining a reasonable quality of life.”

This research and others like it could be crucial for cyclists recovering from a TBI. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that bicycling leads to the highest number of sport and recreation–related emergency department visits for traumatic brain injuries in the country.

Recovering from a TBI can take time, patience, and advocacy. After an accident that causes injuries, including the brain, it’s important to seek out care and legal help to ensure that care is met – especially when TBI symptoms, like memory loss, can persist. Lawyers at Bay Area Bicycle Law can help get compensation that makes that care possible. Call (415)-466-8717 today for a free consultation.

Road to research and recovery

Dr. Diaz-Arrastia believes this treatment could be helpful for TBI patients, but it’s not for the faint of heart. “It requires patients to have electrodes surgically implanted in their brain. And scientists are still refining the system that delivers the electrical pulses,” NPR explains.

“Given the profound unmet need facing patients with memory deficits related to acquired brain injury, we sought to examine whether closed-loop electrical stimulation can be effective in this patient group. As such therapies have yet to be validated, and because technology for chronic closed-loop stimulation is in its infancy, we sought to identify neurosurgical epilepsy patients with a significant prior history of TBI and test whether closed-loop neural stimulation could effectively boost memory in these patients,” the researchers say explaining their study method.

While the study focused on people with moderate and severe TBIs, memory loss is still often cited as a symptom for “mild” cases, which is only classified that way because it means the person did not lose consciousness during or immediately after the crash.

Beyond TBIs, the researchers say their discoveries, if eventually utilized in treatment, could aid people with brain diseases that impact memory, like Alzheimer’s disease.

Additional stimulation research and treatment

Electric stimulation isn’t the only aspect scientists are studying in relation to TBIs.

Researchers at Stanford University in the Bay Area are looking at “the safety, durability and efficacy of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) as a promising non-invasive therapeutic treatment for improving memory.” This type of stimulation, like its name explains, uses magnetic fields to stimulate cells. The non-invasive procedure has been used to treat depression when other treatments have failed.

There’s also ongoing research about deep brain stimulation (DBS), which was FDA approved in 1997 to treat brain injury-related tremors and then a few years later for Parkinson’s disease.

“Since then, there have been multiple studies demonstrating its efficacy in these patient populations and as a result, indications for deep brain stimulation have been expanded to include refractory depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and are also being investigated in the TBI population,” the Brain Injury Association of America reports.

More research is needed to clearly conclude whether electric stimulation – or other kinds of brain stimulation – can be helpful for people who suffer from persisting TBI symptoms like memory loss, but scientists are getting closer to figuring out the best way to approach them. For more information on how TBIs and other injuries can affect cyclists, read on here.

Call for a Free Consultation

The personal injury lawyers at Bay Area Bicycle Law, P.C. are not only experts in bicycle accident cases, but we are also experts in brain injuries. We continually refresh our education with regard to brain injury science to make sure that we not only have the knowledge to win our bicycle crash brain injury cases, but also to help our clients find the medical help they need to heal. A consultation is always absolutely free; give our friendly lawyers a call if you or a loved one has been in a bicycle crash.