According to the New York Times, the Department of Defense recently awarded a $2 million grant to Brain Plasticity Inc. to study the effects, if any, of computer software designed to help victims of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). The programs could benefit soldiers who commonly experience TBI injuries in bomb blasts. San Francisco tech company Posit Science created the software being tested, although other companies like Nintendo have similar products.
Dr. Merzenich and Neuroplasticity
These computer programs are based on the relatively recent discovery of “neuroplasticity” in the brain. Through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, neurologist and co-founder of Posit Science Dr. Michael Merzenich worked to revolutionize our understanding of adult brain function when he theorized that our brains continue to develop and evolve as we age. Previously, it was believed that the brain developed only until adulthood, when it became more or less set in its ways as defined by a person’s experiences.
But by the early 2000s, most in the neurological community supported Dr. Merzenich’s neuroplasticity theory, and research began into how we can train our brains and improve upon brain function. Programs created by Posit Science are intended to repair or build upon the pathways in the brain that have been damaged by mild forms of TBI. Dr. Merzenich suggests these programs may have the potential to improve the lives of those with other neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
The programs being tested by the Department of Defense have been modified from existing games including word puzzles, logic games and some that help the player refine hand-eye coordination. Countdown timers create a sense of urgency while points are given for accuracy. In one visually appealing game, the player controls a diver collecting hidden jewels moving around in the ocean. As the player improves, more jewels are added to the screen, and they move at a faster rate of speed, further challenging the player trying to collect them.
Signs of Hope but Caution Remains
So far, short-term studies of the games have shown an improvement in patients with mild forms of TBI. However, not everyone is ready to sign off on the games’ effectiveness. Dr. Doraiswamy, a Duke University psychiatrist, notes the immediate improvements but is skeptical of their permanence. Gary Abrams, director of neurorehabilitation at the University of California, San Francisco and head of the TBI support clinic at the San Francisco VA hospital, is also unwilling to confirm whether or not these programs provide long-term benefits to soldiers.
While early results are promising, these programs, like Dr. Merzenich’s theory of neuroplasticity before them, have a long way to go before being accepted by the neurological community. Fortunately, they are noninvasive, don’t carry a long list of side effects and are off to a promising start.
If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury and would like more information about these programs or need help getting compensation for other treatments, please contact the Brain Injury Law Center today. We offer a free consultation during which we can discuss the details of your case and your legal rights.