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The Mind’s Ability to Mask Damage from Concussions, New Research from Duke University School of Nursing

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Researchers from the Duke University School of Nursing are examining the brain’s ability to compensate for—and thus mask—potential dysfunction following a concussion. Most mental tests used after someone suffers a mild brain injury such as a concussion are not able to quantify the magnitude of the injury because of ‘‘cognitive reserve” or the brain’s ability to compensate in the short-term and function at what appears to be a relatively normal level.

“The effect of these injuries may not be seen for days, months or years after the initial injury,” said Charles Vacchiano, PhD, Professor at the Duke School of Nursing and Associate Professor at the Duke School of Medicine. “This research is important in developing a greater understanding of how we can assess these injuries.”

This research is the first of its kind to examine the role that cognitive reserve plays in preventing current clinical assessment methods from determining possible long-term problems for people who appear to have recovered from a concussion also known as a mild traumatic brain injury.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries each year. Called the “signature injury” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, traumatic brain injuries are an increasingly important area of concern for returning military personnel and their families.

In addition to military personnel, those particularly at risk are athletes and people involved in automobile accidents or falls. The issue is receiving attention from the National Football League; in September 2012, the League donated $30 million to the National Institutes of Health to assist in research being conducted in the areas of brain injury and long-term cognitive care.

The Duke School of Nursing study focuses on individuals who have suffered a concussion within the past six months. Those interested in getting more information about the study can contact Patricia Patterson at or (919) 684-9516 for additional information.

A diverse community of scholars and clinicians, Duke University School of Nursing is educating the next generation of transformational leaders in nursing. We advance nursing science in issues of global importance and foster the scholarly practice of nursing. In 2011, U.S. News and World Report ranked Duke among the top seven graduate schools of nursing in the nation. The National Institutes of Health awarded $4.3 million in research funding to the Duke School of Nursing (Oct. 1, 2011, through Sept. 30, 2012), making it one of the top 10 nursing schools engaged in NIH-funded research. We offer the masters, PhD, and doctor of nursing practice degrees, as well as an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing degree to students who have previously graduated from college. More than 750 students are enrolled in the Duke School of Nursing, one of the largest numbers in the school's 80-year history.