By Lisa Marinelli Smith
Brain injury risks change as we age, from babies who can tumble off a couch, to teens playing contact sports and seniors who lose their balance and trip on a throw rug.
Some risks are out of our control. But others, such as wearing seatbelts when we drive and helmets when we bike, are up to us to manage safely.
A traumatic brain injury is caused by a blow or forceful jolt to the head or body or a penetrating injury to the head. TBIs affect millions in the U.S. each year. Mild cases, known as mTBI, may result in a brief change in mental state or consciousness. Concussions, which occur when a collision causes the brain to shake within the skull, are a type of mTBI.
Severe brain injuries can cause periods of unconsciousness, coma or even death.
Traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of disability and death in children from 0–4 years and adolescents ages 15–19 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The elderly are also susceptible to brain injuries because of their higher risk of tripping or falling. A CDC report found a 17 percent increase in the rate of fall-related traumatic brain injury deaths between 2008–2017. The largest increase in fall-related TBI deaths occurred among people over 75 years.
So what steps can we take to keep our brains safe? Here are some ideas:
Pick the right helmet for the right activity
Wearing helmets is a sure way to reduce the risk of brain injuries. According to the Federal Highway Administration, bicycle helmets are 85-88 percent effective in reducing head and brain injuries.
Helmets are specifically designed for different sports or activities to best protect your head from impact. A bike helmet isn’t built the same as a batting helmet. Bike helmets are also built differently than skateboard helmets.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides a list of activities and the helmets they’ve certified for each category. You can also find a helpful helmet fact sheet on different types of helmets from the CDC.
Please wear a seatbelt! Also, be sure your kids are in the correct car safety seat.
Buckle your child in the car using a child safety seat, booster seat or seat belt, based on the child’s height, weight and age. When kids outgrow their car seats, usually when they weigh 40 pounds, they should transition to a booster seat until the lap/shoulder belts in the car fit properly, typically when they are 4’9″ tall.
Keeping your baby, toddler and child safe is a full-time job. Here are some tips from the CDC to prevent brain injuries:
Senior fall safety
Sight, balance and proper footwear all play a role in avoiding falls.
Home safety also is paramount. The CDC suggests:
EEGs and Brain injuries
EEGs (electroencephalographs) are useful tools for doctors to get more information about a brain injury. The noninvasive test measures electrical activity in the brain to examine brain health and diagnose certain physical and psychological conditions.
According to one study, an EEG is more effective than a neurological exam in determining if a patient has suffered a brain injury. After mild TBI, 86 percent of patients with an abnormal neurological examination also had an abnormal EEG. On the other hand, only 23 percent of abnormal EEGs were accompanied by an abnormal neurological examination. In those cases, the physical neuro exam didn’t indicate a brain injury, but the EEG did.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, was previously known as dementia pugilistica or “punch-drunk syndrome” for its association with former boxers demonstrating declining ability, memory loss, and lack of coordination. The hallmark risk factor that separates the syndrome from other tauopathies and dementias is repeated trauma to the head, otherwise known as traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. It’s this repeated trauma where things become an issue for contact sports.