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Using Smell to Diagnose Brain Injury

The prevalence of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) is a continuous challenge for the United States military. The conditions that soldiers face in battle are conducive to mild and serious concussions, which left untreated, can evolve into lasting injuries to the brain. In response, researchers are constantly looking for productive methods of diagnosis and treatment, even in the chaotic heat of battle. Medscape is reporting about a possible new method of diagnosing brain injuries on the battlefield and it focuses on the sense of smell.

The Study Details

The study was reportedly conducted by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. It included 231 soldiers who were injured following battle explosions in Iraq or Afghanistan. All of the soldiers were immediately air lifted to Walter Reed Military Medical Center. Using the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT), physicians evaluated the soldiers for TBI. According to the report, the patients with mild or no brain injuries exemplified normal senses of smell. Soldiers with severe brain injuries were found to have olfactory impairment, meaning their sense of smell was abnormal.

UPSIT is reportedly designed to measure a person’s ability to detect specific odors. It generally works like a scratch and sniff system. The patient is given several booklets, which contain scented strips. Once the scents are released, the patient chooses the odor from a set of multiple choice options. The score is then reviewed and compared to scores of other individuals within the same gender and age grouping.

The Future of TBI Testing

According to the report, researchers expect that the study findings will result in improved diagnosis of TBIs on the battlefield. Doctors will use smell tests to determine with a soldier needs an immediate brain scan to prevent further brain injury.

Dr. Michael Xydakis was the study leader. He is quoted in the article as stating, “Getting a CT scan in a combat zone is often the equivalent distance of placing a soldier on a helicopter in Washington, D.C., and sending them to Boston. It requires a significant investment in personnel and aviation resources; not to mention flying troops over hostile terrain.”

Between 2004 and 2014, more than 320,000 service members received TBI diagnoses, as reported by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Though the work of military researchers is geared towards the treatment of soldiers, their findings also benefit civilians who suffer with the lasting effects of brain injuries. Each year, 1.7 million individuals are involved in accidents or incidents that result in a traumatic brain injury. Many of these people suffer with debilitating effects that alter the course of their lives, as well as the lives of their family members. When someone else is at fault for these injuries, the services of an experienced attorney are vital to securing adequate monetary compensation.

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