Every year about 200,000 Canadians suffer concussions. Sports injuries and car accidents are two common causes of brain injuries, but for seniors, falls are a common cause. The good news is that the brain can usually recover from minor concussions within a short time. But for multiple concussions or more traumatic brain injuries, the path to recovery can be long and winding. Post-concussion syndrome can persist for years without the proper help. Research is showing that there are many ways to enhance healing of the brain. No matter how long it’s been since a brain injury, it’s never too late to jump-start more repair of those delicate structures of the brain that run our mind and body.
The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can include fatigue, memory loss, cognitive issues, headache, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep issues, sensitivity to light or sound, issues with sight or hearing, nausea, dizziness and more.
The best approach after a brain injury is to minimize the damage and promote brain healing as soon as possible. To do that, we have to understand how the brain cells actually get damaged with brain injury. Then we can use treatments that target those processes. We need to institute neuroprotection strategies that promote healing, and it’s never too late to start.
There are about seven known mechanisms we can target to help heal a damaged brain. Neural inflammation is a significant cause of loss of brain cells after head injury. Oxidative stress on the brain cells damages delicate structures. The blood brain barrier (BBB) is intended to only allow certain things to enter the brain from the blood, but after brain injury, there can be a breach in this filtering system. Toxins then can enter the brain and cause more damage. Mitochondria are the furnaces of the nerve cells, producing needed energy. After brain injury, the mitochondria can’t supply as much energy to the neurons. The brain’s natural healing may be compromised, so we want to stimulate the parts of the brain that can regenerate by enhancing neural stem cells. We need to promote the lymphatic drainage to clear away the normal waste products that build up in the brain daily. The brain is intimately linked to the digestive system. Having a healthy digestive system will help brain function. Naturopathic physicians are trained in methods to address each of these seven mechanisms to enhance brain healing after concussion.
Other treatments for concussion are also getting much needed attention. Brain training can help make new connections in the brain. Neurofeedback is a sort of visual gym for learning to retrain and re-pattern disrupted brain activity (and is available in Comox). Functional Neurology practitioners can help target the part of the brain that is malfunctioning and provide specific stimulation to heal those parts. Cold laser therapy to the skull has demonstrated benefits to many patients at a Toronto research clinic and human clinical trials are underway. This painless treatment has been shown in animal studies to enhance brain healing after traumatic brain injury.
No matter how far out from a brain injury, there is always reason for hope. With the right treatment, people can improve significantly even years after a brain injury if they are willing to invest in their brain health.