Two University of Oklahoma researchers have developed a way to measure brain function in troops going to war, giving doctors baseline data to help diagnose and treat the soldiers if they suffer traumatic brain injuries.
In the past three months, more than 13,000 soldiers have participated in tests conducted at five bases around the world, including 2,500 members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard who form the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The test protocol was developed by Robert Schlegel, an industrial engineering professor, and Kirby Gilliland, a psychology professor. Both are directors of the Center for the Study of Human Operator Performance at OU. The troops line up at laptop computers to take a 15-minute test of basic math, matching numbers and symbols and identifying patterns. The results measure reaction time, short-term memory and other cognitive skills that will be used as a comparison for returning or injured soldiers who may suffer mild brain trauma that otherwise could go unnoticed and untreated. "These are the people that will be most at risk in the very near future,” Gilliland said. "The soldiers have been very cooperative.” Brain injuries have become the signature injury in Iraq, caused by skull-penetrating bomb shrapnel, impact trauma from vehicle accidents or falls, and percussion or blast injuries from nearby explosions, Gilliland said.
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Why are blast injuries an issue now?America's armed forces are enduring attacks by rocket-propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices and land mines. Troops injured in these attacks require specialized care from providers experienced in treating traumatic brain injury.
What symptoms may indicate an injury?Post concussion complaints include decreased memory, poor concentration, headaches, slower thinking, irritability and depression.