Four Things You Should Know about Traumatic Brain Injuries
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Finally, our troops are experiencing higher rates of documented TBIs, in part due to changes in combat technology. TBI has been called “the signature wound" of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars due to the use of improvised explosive devices. Sources estimate that as many as 20 percent of our soldiers serving in these areas will experience a TBI.
Here is what you should do about TBIs.
As research interest in closed brain injury grows, there is much we can learn about TBI, including what we can do to “mind our brains” when it comes to this increasingly common brain health concern. Here are a few steps to consider to lower TBI risk for yourself and others in your family, and some things you should know if you or someone you care for experiences a TBI:
Protect yourself. There are many common-sense steps we can all take to lower our risk for TBI. Wear helmets (and insist that others do as well) for high impact sports, such as cycling, skateboarding and skiing. Your helmet should fit snugly and comfortably, and it should be strapped. Wearing a helmet unstrapped may seem “cool,” but a helmet won’t do much if it flies off your head at impact. Parents need to wear helmets, too. Insisting that your kids wear helmets and then leaving them off your own head isn’t setting a very good example. Always use seat belts in the car—it’s not only a good idea but also the law in most states. Finally, look for and remove tripping hazards around the house, such as small area rugs or electric cords, all of which are a very significant trip risk especially for older adults.
Take care of your athlete. If you have a child who participates in sports, check if their school or team requires baseline cognitive testing. Such tests offer a guideline when assessing a TBI, and many school districts now mandate such tests for participation in their athletic programs. Insist that your athlete use appropriate protective gear. Finally, if your athlete is injured, make sure that they receive appropriate assessment and treatment and are given plenty of time to heal completely and are cleared by a doctor prior to returning to play. Be sensitive to any uncharacteristic changes in mood, attention, or academic performance, which may be signs of a missed TBI.
Anything else I should know? Researchers are just beginning to understand more about the reasons individuals have different courses of outcome from TBI. One theory recently discussed suggests that having greater cognitive resources, or Cognitive Reserve, may reduce risk for the long-term consequences seen in repeated TBIs. This argument is particularly interesting from a brain health perspective, as studies have previously shown that folks who are intellectually engaged over their lifetime may have an associated lower risk for dementia, perhaps due to greater Cognitive Reserve. Certainly staying intellectually engaged is simply just a good idea, as such activities appear to be protective for long-term brain health.
Want more information on concussions? Visit the Centers for Disease Control's website to learn more.