Brain injuries like Schumacher's can destroy lives: study

Wed Jan 15, 2014 4:05pm EST
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - People with severe head injuries like the one that left Michael Schumacher in critical condition have permanently altered brains that make the victims more likely to become mentally ill and die prematurely, scientists said on Wednesday.

Brain experts said most health services fail to make the link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and long-term mental consequences, meaning patients can fall through the net into depression, behavioral problems and crime.

While Schumacher, a wealthy and famous former motor-racing driver well supported by family, friends and doctors, is in a far better position that most with TBI, he will nevertheless still have a changed brain and will need to readjust and cope.

"If Schumacher survives he will not be Schumacher. He will be (Mr.) Bloggs. And his rehabilitation will only be effective if he comes to terms with being Bloggs - and fulfils what Bloggs can do," said Richard Greenwood, a consultant neurologist at London's Homerton Hospital and at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

"That's a very, very difficult process to take people through - and many people don't achieve it."

Greenwood was speaking at a briefing for reporters on the results of a study into the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries caused by blows to the head.

The study, published on Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, found that survivors of TBIs are three times more likely to die prematurely than the general population, often from suicide or fatal accidents.

Seena Fazel of Oxford University's Department of Psychiatry, who led the study, said the exact reasons for the increased risk of premature death - which in this study was defined as dying before the age of 56 - are not clear. But he said they may be linked to damage to parts of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making and risk-taking.   Continued...

Former Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher of Germany looks on during the qualifying session for the Italian F1 Grand Prix race at the Monza racetrack in Monza, near Milan, in this September 13, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi