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VA Needs More Women To Participate In Head Trauma Research

The exterior of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in La Jolla, April 1, 2016.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: The exterior of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in La Jolla, April 1, 2016.

Research into concussions often does not involve women, including women veterans.

In an effort to gather more data, the nonprofit Pink Concussions has started a collaboration with the Veterans Health Administration to promote the idea of women posthumously donating their brains for future studies.

In the last decade, the Veterans Health Administration has been talking to veterans about head injuries. The emphasis has often been on men, and so has much of the research, said Katherine Snedaker, executive director with Pink Concussions and a licensed social worker.

The research that has been done shows, as a group, women often react differently to head trauma, she said.

“They concuss at a higher rate,” she said. “They have greater symptoms, more severe symptoms and on average a longer recovery. We don’t know if that longer recovery is because we’re not treating women correctly.”

When men are used as the benchmark, women can end up feeling there is something wrong, even when they’re recovering normally.

“When it’s been two to three months and they really start blaming themselves. Like, I should be better by now,” Snedaker said.

Nearly all the brains donated to the major brain banks are from men, often athletes and veterans. Pink Concussions is partnering with the VA to encourage women to donate their brains for research. The idea is to get more women to agree to donate their brains and participate in studies so researchers have a detailed history and symptoms that may be related to head trauma.

The VA runs its own study of brain trauma, though Pink Concussions isn’t advocating for a particular brain bank. Snedaker said all of the major brain banks need more women to participate in research.

A nonprofit is trying to encourage more women veterans to participate in brain research since much of the existing research concentrates on men.

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