While football, hockey and other contact sports garner the most attention pertaining to concussions, experts estimate that a much larger segment of the U.S. population has been affected by this type of brain injury. With these swelling ranks, so-called brain rehabilitation clinics are gaining prominence across the country, offering "boot camp"-style treatment to help victims of concussions seek a return to cognitive normalcy.
Treatment of this kind is in its infancy and claims of success have not been verified or peer-reviewed that's not stopping clinics like Plasticity Brain Centers in Orlando, and Cognitive FX in Provo, Utah from treating patients seeking help, many of whom say they are basically incapacitated from their concussion's effects and are desperate for relief.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 3.8 million adolescents athletes report concussions each year. And last July, the National Institutes of Health determined that between 2006 and 2011 in the U.S. there were 3.78 million emergency department hospital visits, or more than 750,000 patients annually, who received the diagnosis of concussion. Add to those figures the belief that many more concussions, especially among men, go unreported, and you have quite a large group.
"Concussions can affect functions that patients are unaware of, such as balance, physical coordination, eye tracking, cognitive function, memory and even emotional state," said Dr. Matthew Antonucci, Plasticity Brain Centers Director of Neurological Performance and Rehabilitation, in a written statement. And "while 90 percent of concussions resolve on their own, 10 percent do not."
Dr. Antonucci's patients, which the clinic's website says are average people as well as Olympic athletes, spend as many as six hours a day, five days a week, receiving treatment. By patients "performing specific neurological exercises, the signs and symptoms associated with neurological degeneration can be reduced, and cognitive function, mobility, independence, and quality of life increased." PBC claims that over 80 percent of its patients see progress within a few days.
Similar claims have emerged from Concussion FX, which boasts former BYU star and NFL player Austin Collie among its success stories. Here's how the Deseret News described how the clinic's treatment works.
"If Cognitive FX has a 'secret sauce' it may be the way in which a 20-year-old technology a functional MRI has been adapted for therapeutic use. While the MRI scan is underway, the concussion victim performs certain mental tasks. As questions or images appear on a TV screen, the patient responds by pushing buttons. Meanwhile, the MRI is examining the patient's brain activity." As for the significance of the testing, the major Utah newspaper quoted Rett Lam, a Cognitive FX partner, who said, "We use functional neuro-cognitive imaging to actually image what's going on in a person's brain while they're doing these tasks."
The goal is to identify which areas of the brain are working too hard, or not enough, and then tailoring a treatment for each patient based on those findings.
While those suffering from the painful and disorienting effects of concussions are being treated by these clinics with some individuals reporting successful results it's important to note that the procedures are still unproven as to their effectiveness. And while we are sympathetic to those who are afflicted, anyone receiving treatment should be aware of the experimental nature of what they're receiving.
Moreover, since these new clinics have no real track record, it's not known whether any "benefits" from such treatment are long-term or merely temporary.