Although, Brain Injury Awareness Month was in March, with the busy summer months approaching, it’s entirely worth discussing this all-important issue – especially as your children head outdoors to ride bikes and play sports.  Brain injuries can happen at anytime, anywhere and can occur in situations that you never expected. For this reason, it is a good idea to become familiar with the different types of injuries and the associated symptoms.

The TBI

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur when a person receives a blow, jolt or bump to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain.  No two people will experience the injury in the exact same way. Some will simply need to rest and give their brain time to heal while the initial incident is the beginning of a lifelong disease process for others.

The Numbers

One need only review the sobering statistics to understand that this is a serious issue. A staggering 2.4 million Americans will sustain a brain injury each year with, at least, four occurring every minute. Of these people, 475,000 are children. Sadly, 5.3 million live with life-long disability related to their injury. With 52,000 people dying from brain injuries each year, it accounts for 30.5% of all injury-related deaths in the United States.

Traumatic brain injuries are typically sustained during falls (35%), automobile accidents (17%), workplace accidents (16%), assaults (10%) and other causes (21%). Of the injuries that do occur, about 75% are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI).

The Ways to Prevent Brain Injuries

Head injuries can genuinely occur almost anywhere which is why practicing general safety habits as you go about your daily life is the best plan of action. Here are some situation-specific suggestions to consider.

On the Road

First and foremost, never ever drink or use drugs and drive, especially with your children in the car. Make sure that your older kids understand the dangers associated with operating a vehicle while intoxicated or getting into a car with someone who has been consuming drugs or alcohol.

It’s equally important to make sure that your kids are properly restrained according to their age and stage. Small children need to be in a rear-facing car seat secured in a back seat of the vehicle. Follow manufacturer instructions for when kids can sit in forward-facing car seats or booster seats according to their age, height and weight.  All children, 12 and under, should also sit in the back seat, wearing a seatbelt, since airbags can do them more harm than good.

Helmets

Whenever your child is riding a bicycle, skateboard, motorcycle, snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle, they should be wearing a helmet. The same is true when they are engaging in contact sports such as skiing, hockey, football, baseball, snowboarding or riding a horse.

Preventing Falls

Falls are the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries and, while you cannot prevent every slip or stumble there are things that can be done to reduce the risk. If you have small children, install gates at the top and bottom of the stairs or at the entrance to any area that could be dangerous. Also, considering installing window guards to prevent falls from windows. Put non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower. Remove any unnecessary area rugs that kids can trip on. Improve lighting in dark areas of the home. Keep stairs and floors free of clutter. Have your children’s vision checked on a regular basis. Use playgrounds that have shock-absorbing materials on the ground.

The Warning Signs

Any time your child (or yourself) experiences a blow to the head or body that concerns you, it is a good idea to see a doctor. Additionally, there are some signs and symptoms to watch for when you are monitoring your child’s behavior after an injury.

It is unlikely that an infant and young child will be able to adequately explain how they are feeling but there are other ways to tell that something is amiss.  If you notice a change in eating or nursing habits, usual irritability, persistent crying, change in sleep patterns, sad or depressed mood, inability to focus or pay attention or a loss of interest in their favorite activities or toys, you may want to take them in for evaluation.

Other warning signs to look for include loss of consciousness, memory or concentration problems, confusion, combativeness (or other unusual behavior), headache, dizziness, convulsions, slurred speech, nausea/vomiting, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, bad tasted in mouth, sensitivity to light/sound, dilated pupil(s), clear fluids draining from nose/ears, weakness/numbness in fingers and toes, loss of coordination, mood changes, feeling depressed or anxious, fatigue/drowsiness and difficulty sleeping.

With so many television shows sharing highlights of falls and wipeouts for their viewers’ entertainment, it can be easy to forget how dangerous those situations can be. Teach your children that, regardless of how “funny” an accident may have looked, the possible injuries could be less than amusing.  It’s better to overreact to a bump to the head than ignore a potentially life-threatening condition.