March is brain injury awareness month, so now is the time to become more aware of the causes, symptoms and prevention of traumatic brain injuries. Warmer weather is upon us which usually means the population will soon be heading outdoors to partake in all sorts of activities, ranging from a simple playground visit, sports or an evening motorcycle ride. Brain injury is not an event or an outcome. It is the start of a misdiagnosed, misunderstood, under-funded neurological disease
What exactly is a traumatic brain injury? A traumatic brain injury (TBI), also known as a concussion, is an injury to the head that disrupts an individual’s normal brain function. TBIs are a very serious matter and contribute substantially to the annual number deaths and permanent disability in the United States. People who sustain brain injuries must have timely access to expert trauma care, specialized rehabilitation, lifelong disease management, and individualized services and supports in order to live healthy, independent, and satisfying lives.
Events ranging from a bump or jolt to penetrating head trauma can cause a TBI, though not every head injury may lead to one. Most people with TBIs experience full recovery, but more severe cases can leave people with symptoms for days, weeks or longer, specifically in the very young and old populations. Common symptoms of TBIs include difficulty concentrating, decreased mental acuity, headache, nausea, fatigue and sleep disruptions. Some symptoms may appear right away, while others may not be noticed for days or months after the injury. Contact your physician if you have experienced a head injury and have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, slurred speech, or a decrease in physical strength and coordination.
What can we do to help prevent TBIs? There are many safe measures you can take to protect yourself and others from injury. When in an automobile, always wear a seatbelt and use the proper seat restraint for children, and never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. During outdoor sports and activities such as riding a bike or playing a contact sport, always ensure children wear a helmet. For seniors, create a safe environment by using non-slip mats and grab bars in showers, installing handrails on stairways and keeping the home well-lit.
People with a TBI need to be seen by a health care professional. Your health care professional can refer you to a neurologist, neuropsychologist, neurosurgeon, or specialist in rehabilitation such as a speech pathologist. Getting help soon after the injury by trained specialists may speed recovery. Rest is very important after a TBI because it helps the brain to heal. Ignoring your symptoms and trying to “tough it out” often makes symptoms worse. Be patient because healing takes time. Only when your symptoms have reduced significantly—and you have the approval of your health care professional—should you slowly and gradually return to your daily activities, such as work or school. As you become more active, pay attention to any sign if you suspect that you are pushing yourself too hard. Stop these activities and take more time to rest and recover. As the days go by, you can expect to gradually feel better. If you do not think you are getting better, tell your doctor.