Why Is Brain Injury and Aging So Understudied?
The largest minority in the world is people with disability, including those with brain injury. So why are issues of aging, longevity, and the ability to be vulnerable to or resist the diseases of age with a disability so understudied?
See more of Dr. Paul Aravich's videos here.
The question of the effect that traumatic brain injury has on successful aging and on longevity and the ability to be vulnerable to or resist the diseases of aging is remarkably understudied. It's quite interesting how understudied it is. I think part of that is because we don't focus on the whole person who has a brain injury as much as we should. It's a really important question, whether we talk about brain injury or other forms of disability. According to the United Nations, the largest single minority group on earth is people with disabilities. And regardless of whether it's Swaziland or the United States, they're marginalized and disenfranchised and have barriers to care and are socially isolated. And so one of the things we know, for example, about successful aging is it's very much a brain thing. And we know--it's been said that the human brain is a social brain. And one of the common denominators of people who have any form of disability is psychosocial deprivation. We know that psychosocially deprived animals, rather than animals that are in psychosocially enriched environments, have a part of the brain injured; psychosocial deprivation injures a part of the brain known as the hippocampal formation that has some adult stem cells in it. And we know that in psychosocially enriched environments, or at least the animal studies show, those neurons can continue to divide really long after maturity occurs. But psychosocial deprivation is one way to injure the brain. And the hippocampal formation is associated with, among other things, short-term memory and the formation of long-term memories. So as we get older, cognitive impairment sometimes occurs. Mild cognitive impairment is a problem, and, of course, irreversible dementia is a bigger problem. And so to the extent you have an impairment in hippocampal function to begin with, then you're going to be at greater risk for just mild cognitive impairment later on. It doesn't mean you're going to get mild cognitive impairment, nor does it mean you're going to get Alzheimer's or chronic traumatic encephalopathy that's been talked about. But we do know that your risk is going to be greater, depending upon the severity of the brain injury.
Posted on BrainLine February 14, 2013.
Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough, Justin Rhodes, and Erica Queen, BrainLine.
Paul Aravich, PhD is a behavioral neuroscientist and professor of Pathology and Anatomy, Geriatrics, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, Virginia.