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School of Nursing project to study immune system link to brain injury recovery in older adults

For Immediate Release
Date: March 8, 2012
By: Ashley Wiggin,, 206-221-2456

Hilaire ThompsonHilaire ThompsonWhile adults 65 and older make up only 13% of the total US population, they account for 25% of all brain injuries in the US each year.  From 2002 to 2006, emergency room visits for traumatic brain injury (TBI) in adults 65 and older increased by 46% and hospitalization rates increased by 34%.1 Older adults are at higher risk of TBI, often caused by a fall, motor vehicle crash, or blow to the head. They also experience slower recovery times and often face challenges in regaining brain function lost as a result of the injury. Overall, their recovery is not as positive as younger adults with the same or similar injuries.2 A new project from the University of Washington’s School of Nursing is set to study how the aging of the immune system may be a factor in brain injury recovery in older adults.

 Hilaire Thompson, PhD, RN, CNRN, FAAN, Assistant Professor in the department of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, was recently funded by the National Institute of Neurologic Diseases and Stroke (NIH/NINDS) for her new R01 proposal “Impact of Aging on the Immune Response to Traumatic Brain Injury”. The five-year, 2.9 million dollar grant builds upon her previous KL2 and John A. Hartford Foundation awards and involves Thompson leading a multidisciplinary team of co-investigators on the project.

“In this study, we hope to gain a better handle on the biological reasons behind why older adults do not recover as well as younger adults following a traumatic brain injury. By understanding this process better, we have the potential to identify new treatments for reducing or eliminating symptoms and improving quality of life in older adults following TBI.”

The project will follow a group of people who have experienced a TBI They will be followed beginning within 24 hours of the injury for a six month period to understand how their immune systems may be affecting injury recovery. The study will also enroll younger persons with TBI as well as non-injured control subjects for comparison purposes. By studying persons over time and comparing the different groups, Thompson notes that this grant will be one of the first to look at how the aging immune system can impact injury recovery.

“My mother experienced a so-called “mild” TBI following a fall several years ago,” said Thompson. “I understand on a personal level how these injuries impact older adults and their families. It is our hope that our research will provide needed direction in order to optimize recovery following a TBI in this population.”

1Faul M, Xu L, Wald MM, Coronado VG. Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Emergency Department Visits, Hospitalizations and Deaths 2002–2006. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2010.

2 Thompson, H.J., Rivara, F.P, Jurkovich, G.J., Wang, J., Nathens, A.P., MacKenzie, E.M. An evaluation of the effect of intensity of care on mortality following traumatic brain injury. Critical Care Medicine, 2008; 36, 282-290.

Photo credit (image of studying blood): Don Battershall, John A. Hartford Foundation


The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently the nation’s No. 1-ranked nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 3 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service. For more information, visit