Brain Scans and treatment plans
He developed a passion for medical imaging.
As our professors used to say: "How do you know, unless you look?"
Here's a scan of a 15-year-old boy who felt down a flight of stairs at the age of three. Even though he was unconscious for only a few minutes, there was nothing mild about the enduring effect that injury had on this boy's life.
When I met him at the age of 15, he had just been kicked out of his third residential treatment program for violence. He needed a brain rehabilitation program, not just more medication thrown at him in the dark, or behavioral therapy which, if you think about it, is really cruel.
To put him on a behavioral therapy program when behavior is really an expression of the problem, it's not the problem.
Researchers have found that undiagnosed brain injuries are a major cause of homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, panic attacks, ADHD, and suicide.
We are in for a pending disaster with the hundreds and thousands of soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afganistan, and virtually no one is looking at the function of their brain.
Our work taught us that people who do bad things often have troubled brains. That was not a surprise. But what did surprise us was that many of these brains could be rehabilitated.
So here's a radical idea. What if we evaluated and treated troubled brains rather than simply warehousing them in toxic, stressful environments?
In my experience, we could save tremendous amounts of money by making these people more functional, so when they left prison, they could work, support their families and pay taxes.
So after 22 years and 83,000 scans, the single most important lesson my colleagues and I have learned is that you can literally change people's brains. And when you do, you change their life.
You are not stuck with the brain you have, you can make it better, and we can prove it.
My colleagues and I performed the first and largest study on active and retired NFL players, showing high levels of damage in these players at the time when the NFL said they didn't know if playing football caused long-term brain damage. The fact was they didn't want to know. That was not a surprise.
I think, if you get the most thoughtful 9-year-olds together, and you talk about the brain is soft, about the consistency of soft butter, it's housed in a really hard skull that has many sharp, bony ridges, you know, 28 out of 30 nine-year-olds would go: "Probably a bad idea for your life."
But what really got us excited was the second part of the study where we put players on a brain-smart program and demonstrated that 80% of them could improve in the areas of blood flow, memory, and mood, that you are not stuck with the brain you have, you can make it better on a brain-smart program.
Reversing brain damage is a very exciting new frontier, but the implications are really much wider.
Fantastic rehab news. However, let's step up the preventative measures.
Rather than working so hard on the back end, so as to fix a traumatic brain injury, let's change the course of life and better realize how to prevent injuries.
Let's play healthy games where head injuries are far less common.