Traumatic brain injury has long been associated with combat and, more recently, contact sports like football. Now head injuries among "the rest of us" are getting a long look from researchers, too.
"They're actually very, very common," said Geoff Manly, who chairs the Dept. of Neurosurgery at UCSF and is leading the study. He says nearly 3 million people with head injuries turn up at U.S. emergency rooms every year, caused by everything from traffic accidents to falling down stairs to being thrown off a bicycle. Manley says the numbers are increasing yearly "on a scale that dwarfs" the problem in sports alone.
"Historically, we've sort of treated this as an event, rather than a process," he said. "And now we see that many people are suffering long-term consequences of these injuries."
The National Football League is putting up nearly $3.5 million to fund the long-term study of "community-acquired" concussions and the long-range effects they have on some patients, such as depression, dementia, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
The study will track patients from the time they present for emergency care to as long as seven years beyond, to try to determine why some patients are able to shake off head trauma, while others are plagued with long-term and sometimes fatal consequences.