By:Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT
March has been designated Brain Injury Awareness Month by the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA). According to the BIAA, more than 3.6 million people sustain an acquired brain injury (ABI) every year. An ABI is an injury to the brain that is not the result of a congenital or hereditary condition, and not caused by degeneration of the brain or a birth trauma. A lot of people may not feel comfortable around or understand how to interact with a person who has suffered a brain injury. That is one reason the BIAA established Brain Injury Awareness Month.
There are 2 types of ABIs, traumatic and non traumatic. Non traumatic brain injuries are the result of an internal malfunction such as a stroke, a tumor, an infectious disease or lack of oxygen to the brain. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) occur secondary to an external force or impact and are caused by a motor vehicle accident, a sports related injury, drug overdose, or an assault. At 47.9%, falls comprise the leading cause of traumatic brain injury. According to the BIAA it’s estimated that 1 in every 60 people live with a TBI-related disability in America.
Since falls are the most common cause of TBI, this is an issue that can affect older adults at a higher proportion than younger people. Deaths resulting from fall related brain injuries are more prevalent for people 75 years or older. Education on ways to prevent falls is important for the elderly population. These include such things as increasing lighting in dark areas, removing tripping hazards like throw rugs, taking advantage of assistive devices like raised toilet seats, handrails and grab bars, wearing sensible shoes and reviewing your list of medications with your doctor.
A concussion is a mild form of a brain injury. However, just because it is mild does not mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Concussions occur when there is a sudden jolt to the head causing the brain to bounce back and forth within the skull usually associated with loss of consciousness for 30 minutes or less. These happen most often from sports related injuries, motor vehicle accidents, falls or even an accidental bump of the head into a wall or door at home. Some symptoms of a concussion include headaches, dizziness, vision problems, ringing in the ears and nausea. If a concussion is suspected, it is important to make sure the person is evaluated by a physician. Since concussions are brain injuries, they can lead to long term effects including difficulty concentrating, anxiety, sleep disturbances and depression if not treated properly.
Brain injuries can be diagnosed using different methods. An Electroencephalogram (EEG) detects abnormalities in the electrical activity of nerve cells caused by an injury. A Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI), which is probably the most common tool, can be used to detect swelling in the brain and abnormal blood flow.
Treatment for these injuries varies depending on the severity of the brain injury. TBIs can range from mild to severe depending on what region(s) of the brain are affected. Symptoms can be physical, emotional or cognitive. People can have trouble speaking, walking or understanding what is being said to them. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to prevent bleeding or remove parts of the brain that were damaged.
Rehabilitation therapy is prescribed for many individuals who have experienced a TBI. The rehab process can be long depending on the severity of the injury. During rehab the Physical, Occupational and Speech therapists work to decrease the deficits caused by the injury. They may provide education and training in adaptive methods that can be used to complete tasks that used to be easy for the individual. The goal of therapy is to make the person as independent and mobile as possible so they can resume their pre-TBI life with as little interruption as possible.
What can you do to help observe and raise awareness for Brain Injury Awareness Month? BIAA has a toolkit available that includes templates for social media posts, printable posters, and ready made materials based on the stories of individuals who have experienced TBIs. The toolkit can be found here. There are local and state chapters of the BIAA. You can participate in a local event being sponsored in your area. There are also legislative advocacy initiatives that could use your support. For more information you can read the BIAA Legislative Issue Briefs for 2022.
It’s estimated that there are 5.3 million adults and children in the United States living with some level of disability secondary to permanent brain injury. It is important to raise awareness regarding prevention of TBIs, including wearing a helmet, wearing a seat belt, and decreasing the risk of a fall. In addition, the BIAA advocates for those living with a brain injury with the #MoreThanMyBrainInjury campaign. This was established to help individuals overcome being defined by their disability. By doing your part, you can help prevent future brain injuries. In addition you can help others develop a better understanding of the challenges an individual who has suffered a brain injury may face on a daily basis keeping in mind that they should not be defined by their injury.