More than 50,000 Americans die each year from traumatic brain injury (TBI) – an injury to the head that causes the brain to stop functioning properly. TBI can be mild to severe and be short term or ongoing, from mild confusion to a complete lack of motor skills requiring lifelong assistance to perform daily functions. Falls are the most common cause of TBI, followed by motor vehicle accidents, collision with an object, and assaults. Groups that are more likely to suffer TBI than others are toddlers, teens, older adults, males and African-American males.
While most people are treated and released from hospital emergency rooms, 235,000 are hospitalized in the U.S. every year and another 50,000 die from traumatic brain injury. The Center for Disease Control estimates the number of TBI patients who require long term care or help with daily functions at over 5 million. TBI can cause loss of memory and reasoning skills, the ability to taste or feel, communication and understanding skills, and severe emotional issues.
Brain Injury Symptoms
Symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury could be loss of consciousness, confusion, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, and trouble concentrating. Moderate to severe TBI can include the same symptoms but the headache may worsen, with vomiting, dilated pupils, trouble awakening from sleep, slurred speech, loss of coordination, convulsions or seizures, and confusion. Anyone with these symptoms should be taken immediately to an emergency room. Brain damage is generally irreversible so the immediate concerns are the supply of oxygen to the brain, adequate blood flow, and monitoring blood pressure. X-rays and CT scans may also be done to determine the extent of the injury. Patients with moderate to severe injuries will require rehabilitation for their specific needs in physical, speech, occupational, or other therapies.
Using Proper Caution
Traumatic brain injuries can be reduced by knowing and implementing safety measures that will help to protect yourself, your children, and the older adults in your life. Motor vehicle accidents cause 20 percent of traumatic brain injuries with the highest rate being teens 15 to 19.
- Be certain you and all passengers have seat belts buckled.
- Use weight appropriate car and booster seats for children.
- Front seat airbags are a risk for children under 12. Keep them in the back seat.
- Never drink or use drugs and drive. Be aware of prescription drugs that cause drowsiness.
- Do not ride with any driver who may be drug or alcohol impaired.
Millions of sports related traumatic brain injuries happen every year but most are mild and not treated by a physician. Always wear a helmet and see that children do the same when participating in the following activities.
- Playing football, hockey, and baseball, including while running bases.
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Horseback riding
- Skateboarding, rollerblading, and rollerskating.
- Riding a motorcycle or scooter.
- Riding a bicycle.
It’s impossible to predict when a child falls or prevent a child from falling, but risks of injury can be reduced.
- Use window guards on all windows, except for those designated as emergency exits. Screens will not keep children from falling.
- Safety gates should be used at the top and bottom of all stairways, even stairways with few steps.
- Check the playground where children play for shock absorbent surfaces, such as mulch, sand, or rubber.
- Be sure children are always supervised by a responsible adult.
Older adults are prone to falls and have the highest rate of hospitalization and death from traumatic brain injury. Check all areas for anything that may be a hazard.
- Remove throw rugs.
- Install grab bars in bathtubs and showers.
- Use non-slip mats in tubs and showers.
- Install handrails at all stairways.
- Be sure lighting is adequate in all areas.
Firearms are the main cause of traumatic brain injury deaths and 9 out of 10 victims die from injuries.
- Keep all guns in a locked box or case.
- Store bullets in a separate area.
Recovering from traumatic brain injury can be a long and slow process. Prevention is the goal and many traumatic brain injuries can be prevented by using common sense and encouraging children to think before they act.