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Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis and Other Topics

Below please find answers to brain injury related questions which may not have been addressed in the previous materials.

Can an accident worsen a preexisting neurological disease?

Alzheimer's disease

The role of head trauma in the subsequent development of Alzheimer's disease is undergoing intense study. It is likely that serious head injuries shorten the period before Alzheimer's disease would otherwise have developed. There may be a link between traumatic brain injury and the development of ALZ years later.


Head and neck of elderly gentleman with diseased brain visible to illustrate effects of Alzheimer's Disease.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

In 1999 the American Academy of Neurology's position was that trauma and/or head injury is unlikely to create or permanently aggravate multiple sclerosis. This conclusion is not universally accepted among neurologists and reasearch continues to suggest a possible link.

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinsonian patients injured in car accidents, including head injury, suffer a temporary aggravation of their symptoms. There does not seem to be a significant risk of permanent exacerbation of Parkinson's disease from a single head injury, but research continues. Repeated blows to the head, as in boxing, do pose a risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Mental Illness

There are many case reports of mental illness, including obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, mania, hallucinations, etc., following head injuries. Depending on the location and severity of the brain damage, preexisting mental illness may be magnified by a brain injury.

Addiction

Serious frontal lobe injury can cloud judgment and decrease societal inhibitions, making drug and alcohol addiction a significant risk. Those with pre-existing addictions are at greatest risk.

Prior brain injury

Studies confirm that persons who have suffered from previous brain injury are more susceptible to reinjure the brain in a new trauma.

Low Speed Impact

The minimum force necessary to damage the brain is still unknown. Depending on each person's individual susceptibility to brain injury, the threshold may vary considerably between individuals. While engineers and accident reconstructionists can estimate the forces involved in the accident by viewing the speed of, and the damage to, the vehicles involved, the best judges of permanent damage are the health care providers caring for the patient.

Life Care Plan

Cases of serious brain injury inevitability raise the essential issue of long term or permanent care. Rehabilitation specialists examine such patients and extrapolate their medical and non-medical needs for the remainder of their life span. Non-medical needs include home modification, wage loss, home care, and transportation needs.

Spinal Cord

The spinal cord extends downward from the brain and travels down the back in a bony tunnel, protected on all sides by the vertebral bodies and the bony lamina extending from those vertebral bodies. In some people, the bony tunnel is rather narrow, leaving just enough room for the spinal cord to function but no room for any mishaps.

Everyone is familiar with paralysis resulting from diving into a shallow pool. When the victim's face or chin hits the floor of the swimming pool, the head is snapped back. This acute hyperextension causes ligaments (ligaments hold bones together) running along the inner walls of the cervical spinal canal to buckle and acutely bang the spinal cord. If the patient is lucky, the spinal cord is only stunned, and will recover in a day or two. If he's not, the cord will never recover and the patient will be left weak or completely paralyzed in the arms and legs, sometimes just the legs.

Hyperextension injuries to the cervical spinal cord can also result from football players spearing another player or from falling on their face the wrong way.