The Long Term Impact of a Brain Injury

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The long-term effects of a traumatic brain injury can be almost impossible to predict. Neuroscience is only just beginning to learn about the complexities of the human brain and how damage to certain parts of it can effect a patient’s long term health. Both physical and psychological symptoms can arise, sometimes years after the initial injury has been sustained.

Every brain injury patient is different. Some patients make a full recovery, even from what could be considered to be a severe injury. Others may experience permanent impairment and damage from only a minor concussion. It really depends on what part of the brain is affected. Damage to the frontal lobes of the brain can lead to a much more pronounced long-term effect on both cognitive behaviour and physical ability, most commonly seen in stroke victims with the left side of the body being seriously restricted in its ability to co-ordinate movement or response.

But it is the psychological effects of long term brain injuries that can be the most frightening and confusing, for both the victim and their families. A patient’s entire personality can be changed as a result of a serious brain injury, and it is this aspect that neuroscience knows the least about. Symptoms can take months or even years to surface. Many brain injury patients will undergo a traumatic ‘yo-yo’ of emotions, with improvements quickly followed by setbacks. This makes recovery an often slow and frustrating process of ‘two steps forward, one step back’. It is at this point that brain injury victims need the support of both the professionals and their family to maintain a path to recovery.

Post Concussion Syndrome

One of the most common effects of a serious head injury caused by impact (either in a traffic accident or as a result of a blow to the head, for example) is Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). This is a combination of symptoms and disorders and although recognised for over 100 years, it is still a controversial subject. Many within the medical community dispute its status as a recognised disorder, saying that the typical symptoms could in fact be a result of a number of unrelated conditions. As a result of this dispute, support, therapy and treatment for PCS can be sporadic, depending on which school of thought the doctors involved in treating a serious head injury fall into.

The most common symptoms of PCS could be easily attributed to other factors, incorporating everything from headaches and dizziness, personality changes, impaired attention, through to sleep disorders, light and sound sensitivity and depression. Because of the wide range of symptoms associated with PCS, brain injury victims may find themselves suffering from some or none of the symptoms, depending on the severity of the injury and what part of the brain has been affected. In this instance, the medical profession prefers to treat each symptom individually, rather than as a collective under the term PCS.

Long term care is essential for brain injury victims. Although it may appear that the victim has made a complete recovery in the short term, the brain can continually surprise medical science with its ability to adapt to long term damage, or even develop problems later on. The most important help that brain injury victims can have is the support of those around them as they learn to adapt their lives to living with the consequences of a brain injury. Research into the treatment of brain injuries is continually developing, and as we learn more about the human brain, the prospects for better treatment and therefore better recovery programmes for victims will continue to improve.

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* In this talk Blaise Agüera y Arcas, Principal Scientist at Google, will begin by taking a close look at what has been achieved in machine intelligence (especially deep learning) over the past decade, with examples of current techniques and applications from the Machine Intelligence on Devices group at Google and from the community. This includes not only classification and semantic understanding of natural stimuli, but also language, gameplay, and even art. From here Blaise will zoom out and consider some broader questions about human progress, labour and identity in an era of “technological reproducibility”.

Blaise Agüera y Arcas is Principal Scientist at Google where he leads a team focusing on Machine Intelligence for mobile devices – including both basic research and new products. His group works extensively with deep neural nets for machine perception, distributed learning, and agents, as well as collaborating with academic institutions on connectomics research.

Until 2014 he was a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft, where he worked in a variety of roles, from inventor to strategist, and led teams with strengths in inter­ac­tion design, pro­to­typ­ing, computer vision and machine vision, augmented reality, wearable com­put­ing and graphics. Blaise has given TED talks on Sead­ragon and Pho­to­synth (2007, 2012) and Bing Maps (2010). In 2008, he was awarded MIT’s prestigious TR35 (“35 under 35”).

Oxford Martin School,
University of Oxford

Inside the machine mind: latest insights on neuroscience and computer science from Google Inside the machine mind: latest insights on neuroscience and computer science from Google

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