Former Extension Educator, Family Life
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Friday, March 18, 2016
During my childhood, riding bikes was the essence of freedom. The tree-lined streets of my hometown begged to be explored. The wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and roaming around with your friends all day – many great memories were made on the back of our bicycles.
In the late 80's, few children wore helmets while riding their bikes and my friends and I were no exception. Cruising down the street, a misplaced rock, hit just right by the tire of her bike, sent my friend over the top of her handlebars and crashing down on to the street. Hard. On her head.
The next moments and weeks have faded in my memory, but there was surgery, medical appointments, rehabilitation, and lots of missed school. After what seemed like ages, my friend re-emerged, a little different than she was prior to the accident. She also had a name for what happened to her – Traumatic Brain Injury.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) "occurs when an external mechanical force causes brain dysfunction." This force is usually a violent blow or jolt to the head or the body. After a brain injury, the disruption in the functions of the neurons, nerve tracts, and sections of the brain, the brain experiences difficulty carrying or relaying messages causing changes in how the person moves, thinks, acts and feels.
TBI can be caused by many things including seemingly innocuous injuries like falls or sports contact or more obvious trauma like motor vehicle accidents, firearm injuries, and combat injuries. Exposure to chemicals or toxins, a lack of oxygen to the brain, tumors, infection, and stroke can also cause damage to the brain. Injury to the brain affects each person differently and no two brain injuries are exactly the same. Mild injury to the brain can cause temporary dysfunction while more serious injury can result in long-term, life-altering complications and even death.
The effect of a blow to the head may be misleading as some symptoms of TBI appear immediately, while other symptoms may appear long after the event. As such, it is strongly advised that you seek medical attention anytime you or a loved one suffers a blow to the head.
The following are signs and symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury:
- Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes.
- No loss of consciousness, but a state of being dazed, confused, or disoriented
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sleeping more than usual
- Dizziness or loss of balance
In the United States, 1.7 million people sustain a TBI each year and, of that figure, nearly 75% of those brain injuries are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injury. The Centers for Disease Control cites that children age 0-4, adolescents aged 15-19, and adults aged 65 years and older are most likely to sustain a TBI.
To reduce the risk for brain injury, the Mayo Clinic recommends these tips:
- Always wear a seat belt when in a motor vehicle. For children, use the recommended seating system (safety seats, booster seats) in the back seat of the car.
- Prevent falls in the home by installing handrails in bathrooms, both sides of staircases, ensuring your home has good lighting, and keeping your stairs and floors clear of clutter. Getting regular vision checkup and staying physically active are also recommended.
- For children, ensure your home is safe by properly installing safety gates on stairways, installing window guards to prevent falls out of windows, and not letting children play on fire escapes or balconies.
- Wear appropriate head protection while engaging in contact sports, skiing, skating, snowboarding, playing baseball, or riding a horse.
- Wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, skateboard, motorcycle, snowmobile, or ATV.
As for my childhood friend, she eventually recovered from her mild traumatic brain injury through her hard work and perseverance. While she has gone on to live a full and productive life, to this day she would tell you that taking care of your brain by protecting it from injury has been the greatest lesson of her life.
For a comprehensive listing of Traumatic Brain Injury resources for patients and families, click here.