Brain Injury

We all pretty much take our brains for granted most of the time. Yet there is no life without a marginally functional brain. Quality of life requires even more functional brainpower.

A traumatic brain injury is defined as a blow or a jolt to the head that disrupts or damages normal brain functioning. While not all blows to the head cause a traumatic injury, even seemingly minor events can result in long-term effects. Approximately 1.5 million people in the United States suffer a traumatic brain injury each year. As many as 50,000 of them die; 225.000 are hospitalized, and over one million are treated and released from emergency rooms.

Did you know that the two age groups most likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury are the 0 – 4 year olds and the 15 – 19 year olds? Falls account for over one quarter of all injuries, with motor vehicle accidents coming in second. In war zones, blast injuries such as the one sustained by ABC news reporter Bob Woodruff, are also extremely common.

The range of symptoms of traumatic brain injury are as varied as the areas of the brain affected. Some lose their ability to form new memories. In others, language skills are affected. Some develop movement disorders; others experiences changes in their emotions and / or behavior. Some may develop seizure disorders. Brain injuries may also increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or other brain disorders associated with aging. Problem solving can also be affected.

There are actions we can take to reduce the risk of traumatic brain injuries, even though we cannot completely eliminate that risk. Buckle your own seatbelt. Make sure young children are safely buckled into their car seats as well, to reduce the risk of brain injury during motor vehicle accidents. Booster seats are also required for older children who weigh less than 80 pounds. Even though they may not like it, make a rule that all adults in your car buckle up too – before you turn on the engine. Seat belts save lives!
Insist that children and teens wear helmets and other protective gear when engaging in biking, roller blading, football and other sports. If a player does get knocked out – even for a few seconds – get them checked out medically, and don’t allow them back on the playing field until they have been cleared.

Repeated head injuries can cause cumulative damage beyond the immediate effects of each individual injury. Professional football players and boxers have learned this the hard way. Do your best to help the younger players you love avoid following in their footsteps.
Accidents can and do happen – we can’t prevent them all. But using your seatbelts and insisting on the use of protective sports gear such as helmets can save lives!