As part of the study, researchers evaluated 55,458 records from the VHA (Veterans Health Administration). The records belonged to military personnel returning from Afghanistan or Iraq and received a new mental diagnosis in 2010. The study only included veterans born after 1973 and those treated as outpatients. All had served on active duty.
Veterans who received a TBI and mental health diagnosis were generally younger, more likely to have a service-related disability and more likely to have substance abuse issues than those without TBI. Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, was the most common mental health diagnosis.
Among participants, 20% of patients were diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, 22% with an anxiety disorder, 38% with some form of a depressive disorder, and 57% with PTSD. Some of the veterans had been diagnosed with more than one condition.
Researchers found that patients with TBI had significantly more psychotherapy visits. Among patients who had eight or more psychotherapy visits, 16% had TBI and 10% of patients did not.
Veterans with PTSD had the highest number of psychotherapy visits, while those with a depressive disorder had the most medication-related visits.
News of the study comes after Indiana University received a $2.1 million grant from the federal government to study the long-term effects of TBI.
The grant allows the university's School of Medicine to carry out a five-year study in partnership with the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana. The funds will be used to research new treatments for TBI and to explore how the injury affects patients and their loved ones.
Flora Hammond, physical medicine and rehabilitation professor at IU, says the research will allow them to gain a "deeper understanding of life-long challenges" TBI patients experience. Patients with TBI typically experience behavioral and emotional challenges.
Veterans aren't the only ones who experience TBI. In 2015, 2.5 million people visited the emergency room for TBI. Among those patients, 50,000 died due to their injuries.
Researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center were also awarded $4.8 million in grants for the research of TBI and neuroscience. The first award, $3 million, will be put towards the study of the long-term effects of TBI. That study will span five years.
The universities were two of 16 that were awarded grant money to examine the lifelong changes and the initial recovery of TBI. The findings will not only help veterans find new and more effective treatments for TBI, but also help the medical community better understand the life-long challenges that come with this injury.
Other researchers are taking a different approach. Dr. Denise Krch is using VR applications to help people with TBI. She has been awarded grants from Rehabilitation Research, Disability Independent Living and even the Department of Defense for her research. She currently works with the Department of Defense helping injured soldiers.
Dr. Krch's VR application puts patients in an office setting – not some far-off land – where they learn how to navigate an increasingly more distracting and chaotic environment. Multi-tasking and distractions can make TBI patients feel overwhelmed and frightened. Her VR method aims to gradually get TBI patients used to these chaotic environments in a safe setting.
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