This week the New York Times-along with many other news outlets-spread word of the latest research into traumatic brain injuries that offers glimpses of hope for tens of thousands battling the condition. In particular, the research findings target those who have often been nearly written off, including those with the most severe brain injuries. According to the story, the particular study which reached these findings constitutes perhaps the most scientifically strong effort so far involving a therapy that helps these individuals.
The study will appear in the New England Journal of Medicine and for the first time may provide medical professionals with a standard treatment for these severe injuries. The study targets patients who are in only partial states of consciousness or a completely unresponsive “vegetative” state. All together estimates suggest that this includes anywhere from 65,000 to 115,000 Americans. However, even beyond this group, most suspect that these treatments will also help those with less severe traumatic brain injuries.
The results are modest, but considering the complete lack of standard treatment protocols for these conditions in the past, it represents an important step forward. Summarizing the progress, a leading clinical researcher explained, “This study puts the traumatic brain injury field on the first step of the ladder to developing scientific treatments. We’ve been trying to get there for a long-time.”
So what is the treatment?
The drug which has been found to help these victims has been around for a long time to treat Parkinson’s disease-amantadine hydrochloride. Speculation about the drug’s effectiveness in the brain injury context has been around for awhile, but there was never much proof for it. However this latest research puts those uncertainties to rest. That is because this is the first effort which uses actual large, double-blind, placebo controlled experiments.
Participants included those with varying degrees of brain injury (though all classified as “severe”). Those involved were split into two groups, both with equivalent levels of overall injury. One group was given a placebo and the other received the amantadine, twice a day. The patients’ progress was analyzed using a range of measures including communication and coordinationability. Because this was a double-blind experiment, the therapists and caregivers who did the measuring and reporting of scores did not know which patients were actually receiving the drug and which the placebo.
Overall, researchers found that those receiving amantadine showed more improvement that those not on the drug. To be clear, the improvement was modest. However, the improvement was seen in just a month’s time which is relatively quick for these sorts of injuries. In the two weeks after the study, when the patients stopped receiving the drug, the placebo group caught up in terms of improvement. This means that while the drug seems to speed up improvement, it is unclear if it improves the total recovery level itself.
Our Chicago brain injury attorneys applaud all of the researchers working in this field. We understand the consequences that these injuries have on the lives of thousands of residents in our area and throughout the country. All efforts which may improve the lives of these individuals should be promoted and supported.
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