Brain injury. It’s a term that applies to anything causing brain cell death and loss of function.
The causes are numerous: stroke, tumor, infection, and others, but the most common is Traumatic Brain Injury. It is often caused by a bump or blow to the head – especially when the gelatin-like brain tissue whiplashes back and forth inside the skull.
TBI can result from falls, sports injuries (concussions), vehicle accidents, military blast injuries, crimes and more.
Severe or catastrophic brain injuries may require lifelong care, but even mild and moderate TBIs can affect thinking, vision and balance, sleep patterns, movement, emotions and even personality.
What makes brain injury especially challenging is that symptoms may not be apparent and onset may occur days, weeks or months after the actual injury.
How prevalent is TBI?
Every year, about 2.8 million Americans sustain a TBI and the CDC estimates 5.3 million live with a disability from brain injury. In Michigan, there are about 200,000 survivors of brain injury. It’s the leading cause of death and disability for both kids from birth to age 4 and again for adults older than 65; falls are the culprit in both cases. Brain injury also disproportionately impacts adolescents from 15 to 19 — often the result of auto accidents.
Is a concussion a brain injury?
Yes. Everyone knows about concussions in the NFL, but they occur far beyond professional football. Soccer and cheerleading aren’t even “contact sports” yet they account for significant numbers of concussions, especially for women.
How is a concussion diagnosed?
Only a medical professional can do so accurately, but common symptoms include:
- Loss of consciousness, even for a few seconds
- Dazed, confused, disoriented
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fatigue or weakness, especially weakness in limbs
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Memory or concentration problems
- Mood swings or changes
- Feeling depressed or anxious
New medical techniques for concussion diagnosis are being studied and appear to offer promise. These include on-site blood tests and biomarker analyses.
How is concussion treated?
For athletes suspecting a concussion, the first and most important step is to stop playing and see a doctor. In general, mild TBIs are treated by rest, limiting physical activity (especially sports), and temporarily avoiding TV, music, video games, cell phones, and bright light. For mild TBIs, symptoms usually abate in a few days to a few weeks. Should symptoms persist or become severe, an ER visit or immediate consultation with a neurologist is necessary.
For moderate and severe brain injuries, in-patient and/or outpatient rehabilitation may be required. Such rehab may be short-term or longer and include physical, speech, cognitive, occupational and other types of therapy, as well as psychological counseling and follow-up.
Can concussion be prevented?
Because most TBIs are caused by accidents, anything that prevents an accident can prevent or minimize a brain injury. That means supervising toddlers and kids on the playground and making certain your home is accident-proof for babies, as by installing safety gates on stairs. Senior citizen falls can be prevented by good lighting, making certain rugs and carpets are secured, and installing hand rails on tubs and showers.
Helmets are required for major contact sports such as football and hockey, but certified and properly fitted helmets are an excellent way to prevent brain injury for bikers, skiers, snowboarders, skaters, motorcyclists and ATV riders — regardless of age.
Some new scientific research suggests neck strengthening exercises for both men and women may be helpful in minimizing the whiplash motion that may occur in a concussion. Special vision exercises for athletes may also be helpful in avoiding athletic collisions — say in soccer and hockey — that can lead to concussion. Both types of exercise are not yet fully approved or medically endorsed.
About the Brain Injury Association of Michigan
The BIAMI is a public and member supported 501(c)(3) non-profit which serves as the link between brain injury survivors and their families, and the nation’s most outstanding and extensive network of brain injury providers. BIAMI membership is free to survivors. The Association focuses on brain injury advocacy, awareness, prevention, research, and support. Please call (800) 444-6443 or visit www.biami.org for more information.