Fifty Years Later, Vietnam is Still Teaching Us About Traumatic Brain Injury
Serious head injuries cause lasting damage and are, unfortunately, very common in combat. During the Vietnam War, frontline troops were at constant risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) from shell fragments and shrapnel from explosions. A TBI occurs when a person suffers a severe blow to the head or the body, such as a car crash, resulting in an injury that can cause long-term or even permanent damage to the brain. TBIs cause short-term symptoms like headaches, dizziness, disorientation, and loss of consciousness. In the long term, severe TBIs can lead to cognitive issues like memory loss and may impact speaking ability. People with TBIs may also experience mental health effects such as depression and anxiety, vision changes, mood swings, and seizures. Vietnam veterans have been critical in improving our understanding of TBI. First launched in 1965, the Vietnam Head Injury Study investigates the long-term health impacts of TBIs in a cohort of over 1,200 Vietnam War vets. In the last five decades, the study has produced 150 papers as researchers continue to explore how TBIs impact the brain and why some people are more affected than others.