National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month

September 01, 2016

Have you ever had a brain injury?  A number of years ago I had an MRI of my brain and when I read the report I was shocked to learn that a small portion of my brain showed signs of previous trauma.  I have no recollection of receiving head trauma but there is always the possibility that a spill from a bike or a horse may have caused my injury as a child or teen.  While such injuries may not be unusual there is far more attention given to the care of individuals with brain injury today than there was just a few years ago. 

National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month is included on the September list of National Health Observances. With the return of children to school and athletic activities, it seems appropriate that this topic is highlighted at this time of the year.  We know however that traumatic brain injury is not just a problem involving young athletes.   

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. The severity of a brain injury, commonly called concussion, may range from a brief change in mental status or consciousness to an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss after the injury.  Most brain injuries each year are mild, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that brain injury is a major public health problem contributing to about 30% of all injury deaths or 138 people dying each day in the United States from injuries that include the brain.  Effects can include impaired memory, movement, sensations such as hearing, vision and personality changes lasting a few days or leaving the individual disabled for life.  These issues not only impact the injured individual but also have a lasting effect on the family and the community. 

While brain injury caused by athletic injuries has been a major topic in current news, CDC data show that 40 percent of all brain injuries from 2006 - 2010 were from falls.  More than one-half of brain injuries among children aged 0 - 14 during that same time period were caused by falls.   More than two-thirds of brain injuries in adults aged 65 and older were caused by falls.  Among all age groups, motor vehicle crashes were the second leading cause of brain injury related deaths during that same time period.  Young people aged 16 - 24 are especially at high risk for brain injuries from motor vehicle crashes. 

Following any trauma to the head, an individual should seek immediate medical attention if they experience headache, nausea and vomiting, difficulty thinking or concentrating, sensitivity to light or noise, irritability, lose consciousness, or have trouble sleeping.  Not everyone with a brain injury will have all of these symptoms and some individuals may experience additional symptoms not listed here.  If you or a loved one receives a brain injury it is imperative that you follow the
physicians instructions for care of the injured individual.  Young athletes are especially vulnerable to not admitting the extent of their symptoms because they are anxious to get back in the athletic game. Due to the lack of maturation of the brain, young athletes take longer to recover from a brain injury. Repeated brain injury will put the athlete at great risk for chronic neurological problems.  An Increased awareness of the long-term side effects associated with traumatic brain injury has brought about changes in the approach by physicians and coaches in the care of individuals receiving these injuries. 

The good news about brain injury is that with proper care it can be prevented.  Everyone whether driving or riding in a car should be buckled up. Children should be buckled into age and size-appropriate seats which are fastened securely in the back seat.  Safety guidelines specify at what age and weight a child should progress to the next size child or booster seat.  Young children should be supervised on playgrounds, stairs and other potential fall hazards. Older adults at risk for falls should participate in exercise programs to improve balance and agility, receive annual eye checks, make their homes safe from tripping hazards including rugs and worn carpet and insure good lighting, especially on stairs.  Athletes should wear properly fitted and maintained helmets when required and follow the safety rules. 

Celebrate National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month by insuring that your family members are aware of how to protect themselves from brain injuries and follow the rules for driving and playing safely.  Keep yours and your loved ones brain safe! 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Injury Prevention and Control: Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States, Fact Sheet.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, A cup of Health with CDC, a weekly feature of the Morbidity and Mortality Report, Watch You Head,

Connie Pearson, RN, MN, Chair
Health Ministries Task Force