Deep brain stimulation is already being widely used as a treatment for those with depression and epilepsy. However, only a few smaller trials exist for traumatic brain injury (TBI). Other tests have shown benefits for Alzheimer’s patients, which are likely to help TBI victims as well.
Promising for Brain Injury
Doctors decided to try deep brain stimulation on a man with severe injury to the side of his head. Immediately after the injury, he experienced bleeding and brain swelling. He was first in a coma and then in a vegetative state for 12 weeks. He remained minimally conscious for six years after that.
Because he was barely conscious, his eyes remained closed most of the time. He was unable to swallow and could only eat through a tube in his stomach. On rare occasions, he could utter words and trigger a communication device by moving his thumb.
How Deep Brain Stimulation Works
Small electrodes were implanted in the man’s central thalamus. This part of the brain is deep within the skull and controls wakefulness, arousal, and sleep patterns. Pulses of electrical current were then sent through the electrodes, stimulating the brain. After the man received treatment, he was able to chew food and swallow consistently. He could also speak in short sentences and move his hands and limbs to use objects.
This is the first case to show that deep brain stimulation may help improve conditions associated with traumatic brain injury. To verify the stimulation was helpful, the researchers would turn the device on and off in one-month-long phases and watched the man’s condition. He appeared to get better when the device was on and his health declined when it was off.
Limitations of the Treatment
It is important to note that a big part of why this treatment worked for the man was because he was already conscious. He could follow instructions and commands and was aware of his surroundings. For those who have experienced severely traumatic brain injury, the damage may simply be too severe.
Promising for Alzheimer’s
For patients who are suffering from Alzheimer’s because of a traumatic brain injury, deep brain stimulation may also help their condition. A researcher was stimulating a man’s hypothalamus to treat obesity and the man suddenly remembered events that happened in his life twenty years ago.
He could remember every detail surrounding the event and when the stimulation was turned off, the memory went away. When the researchers turned it back on, the memory would come back almost immediately. More studies are showing promising results. If this treatment helps Alzheimer’s patients with memory, it is likely to help TBI patients as well.
If you or someone you love has experienced a traumatic brain injury and you want to know about your rights, contact our attorneys. Depending on your situation, you may have a case for compensation of any past or future medical bills, as well as any money that you may have lost because of a decrease or loss in employment.