Late last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of two new devices that can assess an individual’s cognitive function in the moments immediately following a concussion or other brain injury. This is big news. Namely, these devices are the first such tools to gain approval from the FDA, and will go a long way toward reducing the ineffective practices and general quackery that have lately plagued the field of neurology.
And not a moment too soon. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has become a hot topic. More and more often, there are reports of football players, hockey players, and boxers who, in their retirements, suffer the effects of TBI. Such injuries — which arise from external force to the brain — can severely compromise one’s cerebral function and alter one’s personality beyond recognition. TBI is known to lead to migraines and depression. The disease is estimated to be a factor in more than 50,000 deaths annually in the United States.
It is likely that, if there had been reliable means to test the effects of a concussion earlier on, innumerable athletes would have known to better protect themselves during their careers and avoided long-term suffering.
Not a cure, but not a false hope
The new devices are not meant to diagnose concussions or other trauma. Rather, a press release states, they will be used “to test cognitive skills such as word memory, reaction time and word recognition, all of which could be affected by a head injury…[they] provide a useful new tool to aid in the evaluation of patients experiencing possible signs of a concussion.”
Even with their somewhat limited capabilities, however, the new tools are invaluable. Given the FDA’s approval, they can be seen as reliable. This is a welcome shift in a field dominated by false cures. According to a recent article in Stat, a number of unqualified professionals and entrepreneurs have been “looking to cash in on public anxiety over concussions [and] are flooding the market with pricey products that have no scientific merit – and opening concussion clinics staffed by ‘specialists’ with no expertise in brain trauma.”
Hundreds of clinics, the article goes on, have sprung up across the country. They take patients’ money, but offer no means to treat their impairments. Many of them are, in short, scams.
Keeping life on track
Indeed, as yet there is no treatment for TBI. For many, the only recourse is to hire an attorney, file a personal injury claim, and hope for financial damages that will compensate for one’s pain and suffering.
Likewise, the new tools aren’t treatments. They are only means of recognizing how much damage has already been done. Yet they will prevent individuals from pursuing false cures. And, equally crucial, they can determine who is at especially high risk of TBI, and help them make lead a life to keep the risk at bay.