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Brain injuries: new device could help assess consciousness level

Even with more crash-worthy cars and greater seat-belt use, many people suffer brain injuries in motor vehicle accidents. That is why we continue to follow developments in the medical community regarding the treatment options for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other forms of brain damage.

Of course, the worse the injury, the more challenging it can be to find an effective treatment. Brain injuries may render someone unable to respond to verbal questions or commands. But even in those cases, it is still important to determine what level of consciousness a person may have.

This week, researchers published the results of a new study regarding a technique that involves shaking the brain with powerful magnetic stimulation in order to identify the consciousness level.

The study was led by a team of Italian researchers and published online yesterday in a medical journal. Using a device they developed, the researchers were able to measure the level of information processing going on in the brain.

This technique could have significant practical effects. In particular, it could help doctors provide treatment in intensive-care units by enabling them to get a better sense of patients' consciousness level. Tracking this level and monitoring changes could help doctors make better diagnoses.

For example, let's say someone has suffered brain damage in a car accident or sustained some other serious brain injury that renders them unresponsive. The "brain shaking" technique could enable doctors to make a more accurate assessment of the patient's brain function. 

After all, just because someone is unresponsive doesn't necessarily mean they are in a vegetative state. They could be in a coma instead.

Source: Bloomberg, "Brain Shaking Technique Offers Measure of Consciousness," Makiko Kitamura, August 14, 2013

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