Outcomes getting worse in veterans years after mild concussion

By Amy Wallace   |   May 12, 2017 at 2:35 PM
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May 12 (UPI) -- A new study suggests U.S. military members who have mild concussion after blast injuries are experiencing worse outcomes five years later, and that treatment has been largely ineffective.

The study, by researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine, found about 20 percent of service members in recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan endured a mild concussion from a blast injury -- and that they can still experience mental health symptoms and decreased quality of life at least five years after the initial injury.

"This is one of the first studies to connect the dots from injury to longer-term outcomes and it shows that even mild concussions can lead to long-term impairment and continued decline in satisfaction with life," Christine L. Mac Donald, associate professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, said in a press release. "Most physicians believe that patients will stabilize 6-12 months post-injury, but this study challenges that, showing progression of post-concussive symptoms well after this time frame."

Researchers studied five-year outcomes in 50 service members who had mild traumatic brain injury, or mTBI, and compared the findings to 44 controls who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan but not injured.

After undergoing a variety of neurological and neuropsychological tests, and tests of overall functional ability to return to work and home life, researchers found the service members had a combination of factors that were highly predictive of poor outcomes five years after their injury. Those factors were neurobehavioral symptom severity, walking ability and verbal fluency at one year after injury.

Researchers found that even though 80 percent of service members with concussions had sought treatment from mental health providers, just 19 percent of the service members reported actually benefiting from the programs.

"We need to identify effective, long-term treatment strategies that will help these brave men and women enjoy the highest quality of life possible following their service to our country," said Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. "This unique academic-military partnership highlights the power of data sharing and cutting across traditional boundaries to advance research that will help improve the lives of our military members."

The study was published in JAMA Neurology.

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