Army Gets Serious About Protecting Soldiers' Brains
> 1/7/2008 1:59:51 PM

The U.S. army acknowledged that brain injuries are a serious problem when it set up the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. The Center has done extensive research on the causes of brain injury, demonstrating that the high-pressure airwaves generated by explosions can kill neurons even when there is no physical contact between shrapnel and skull. However, it is very difficult to determine when such injuries have occurred. Back in September, we wrote about a new program to test soldiers before and after deployment, so that even small changes in behavior and ability can be identified. While this is a good idea, it may not be enough to give a precise picture of the dangers on the battlefield. Recognizing this, the army has developed a helmet capable of sensing and recording trauma.

The 101st Airborne Division, who get the benefit and the risk of being the first guinea pigs in many army tests, have already been outfitted with the new helmets. The sensor is by necessity very rugged; it can function after sustaining massive blows, and its battery can keep it going for six months. The sensor can store data on up to 527 events, from a admonishing swat from a commander to a deafening grenade explosion, and this data is uploaded every month to a central database.

This database, when combined with the before-and-after testing program launched last year, should be able to link specific trauma to specific declines in cognition. Precise knowledge about the correlation is valuable for both strategic and treatment reasons. If the military knows exactly how far away from what size explosion soldiers need to be to stay safe, then they can train soldiers to be safer or supply them with equipment that protects them if they are caught in the dangerous range. When these preventative measures fail, thorough knowledge of injuries will ensure that veterans receive appropriate treatment. With clear evidence from these helmets, veterans can get the help they need without having to go through the stressful, and sometimes nearly impossible, process of proving that they suffered an injury while serving their country. A claim that you feel more sluggish than before can be ignored, but a record that your head accelerated at 10 g's is incontrovertible.

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