Traumatic brain injury has made headlines in the past few years in the world of professional sports. But traumatic brain injury and a resulting diagnosis of degenerative brain disease is also a reality for many service members who have been injured in combat. Almost 20 percent of soldiers reported that they experienced a traumatic brain injury. Many of them present with symptoms that include memory problems, seizures, behavioral changes and depression. Some of those diagnosed with head trauma eventually develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The military is now leaning on the sport of football to learn how to better protect soldiers from trauma to the brain. A new contract was announced in May for the design of Army and Marine Corps helmets for soldiers. The contract will allow soldiers to test the remodeled helmets. The helmets are being developed by a Seattle football helmet company called Vicis. The company is studying how much impact the helmet can take before causing damage to the head. The ZERO1 helmet, designed by Vicis, received high praise from National Football League players for its ability to lessen impacts to the head. The fewer hits that football players or soldiers sustain, the less likely they are to develop traumatic brain injury. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has strongly advocated use of the helmet.
The support of football players for this product has prompted interest by the military. Currently military helmets are designed to block bullets from hitting the wearer but are not ideally designed to protect against impact. Instead of foam padding, Vicis plans to line the helmet with custom liners made of small flexible columns that are better able to absorb blunt blows to the head. This represents a huge improvement over current military helmet design. The company estimates that impact forces were lowered by 30 or 40 percent with these upgrades in helmet design.
Experts on brain injury warn that more research is necessary to determine whether improved helmet technology can really minimize impact to the brain. The creators of the helmet maintain that the helmet can help lessen the severity of impacts to the head but may not be effective in reducing the risk of concussions to soldiers.
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