"I Am Not a Vegetable, I Am a Person"

TBI can come with increased risks of other health problems like Alzheimer's, but what harm is there in choosing to live a healthy life rather than focusing on what could happen?

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About half of all Parkinson's patients have significant emotional and cognitive deficits. [Paul Aravich, PhD; Professor, Eastern Virginia Medical School] So therefore, the person who has a moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan or Iraq is indeed at increased risk for cognitive problems associated with Parkinson's and associated with Alzheimer's down the road. But we don't want to say that's inevitably the case. It's kind of like having high cholesterol. You have cholesterol; it doesn't mean you're necessarily going to get a stroke or a heart attack. It means you're at increased risk. So we don't want people to think because they have a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury inevitably they're going to have Parkinson's, inevitably they're going to have Alzheimer's disease. And we like to say if you've seen one brain injury, you've seen one brain injury. And so insofar as comparing one person to another is concerned, very difficult to indicate what's going to happen. We bring to my medical students people from the Brain Injury Association of Virginia and the foundation that I work with called The Mary Buckley Foundation. This past--couple of weeks ago, we brought in a person who was-- said to be--going to be a vegetable. That's what the neurosurgeon said, "You're going to be a vegetable." And he stood in front of my students twenty years later and said, "No, I'm not broccoli. I am not a vegetable. I'm a person." And so it's very difficult to know who is more at risk or who is less at risk. What we know is that what harm is there to have a healthy lifestyle. And we know, for example, Alzheimer's disease risk factors are highly correlated with, among other things, cardiovascular disease risk factors. And so if you're using a heart-healthy lifestyle, what do you have to lose? It's going to be potentially good for your heart and who knows, it may be good for your Alzheimer's itself.
Posted on BrainLine February 14, 2013.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough, Justin Rhodes, and Erica Queen, BrainLine.