You cut your finger, and it bleeds. But it heals. You break your arm, and it ends up in a cast for six weeks or longer. But it gets better. If you suffer a brain injury, however, complete recovery is never as certain and, in some cases, the injury never heals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1.5 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury every year — a collision on the soccer field, a fall on the ice, a bicycle accident.
Brain injuries vary greatly in their effects, depending in part on the severity of the injury, but also what part of the brain is injured and the individual’s response. Any activity controlled by the brain can be affected — movement, coordination, thinking, mood, emotions.
When the individual suffers only a brief loss of consciousness or period of confusion and the doctor finds no abnormalities on an MRI or CT scan, the brain injury may be classified as “mild.” A headache may pass within a day or two, but other symptoms lasting longer than a week are reason to seek medical attention. These symptoms may include persistent fatigue, sleeping more or less than usual, trouble concentrating or feeling unusually frustrated, irritable or angry.
Moderate to severe brain injuries are likely to produce symptoms that last even longer and may be permanent. These symptoms are likely to include impairments in thinking skills, attention, memory and concentration.
When loss of consciousness following a blow to the head lasts longer than 30 minutes, the chances of a severe injury are high. And effects can be disabling: impaired function of arms and legs, abnormal speech or language and marked emotional problems as well as cognitive impairment.
Young children and adults over age 65 are particularly vulnerable to head injuries. But they can happen to anyone at any time as a result of vehicle accidents, falls, sports activities or firearms accidents. Nearly all can be prevented.
DRIVING: Automobile accidents are a leading reason for traumatic head injuries, particularly among adolescents and young adults. Always buckle your seatbelt. It is your primary protection from bumping your head against the windshield, being thrown around inside the car or being thrown outside.
For children, car safety seats offer crucial protection. Rear-facing seats are required for infants and toddlers up to the age of 2 or the maximum height and weight allowed by the manufacturer. Then forward-facing seats and, finally, booster seats should be used until the child is old enough and big enough that the lap and shoulder harness fits properly.
FIREARMS: If you have firearms in your home, keep them locked in a safe place — unloaded — and away from children.
CYCLING: Whether you’re traveling by bicycle, motorcycle, skateboard, in-line skates or snowmobile, you need to wear a helmet and obey all traffic laws and stop signs.
SPORTS ACTIVITIES: Use approved sport-specific helmets for baseball, football, hockey, skiing and wrestling. Don’t let any team member return to the playing field after a possible concussion, even if it did not result in loss of consciousness.
CHILDREN under the age of 9 are vulnerable to falls at home and on the playground as well as during sports activities. Supervise young children around stairs, playground equipment and other fall hazards. Examine play equipment regularly to make sure there are no cracked or broken parts. Check the playground surface to make sure there is a soft landing surface.
OLDER ADULTS: For adults age 75 and over, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths, hospital admissions and emergency department visits. The majority of these falls occur in the home.
Remove from stairs and hallways anything you could trip over — shoes, books, clothes. Throw rugs, pets and pet toys are also possible fall hazards.
If you feel light headed when getting up from a seated position, slow down and wait until you are stable before you start to walk. Dehydration is one reason for what is called orthostatic hypotension. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water.
Check all your medications for ones that might cause dizziness or sleepiness. Get your eyes checked at least once a year. And begin a regular exercise program that focuses on improving balance, coordination and strength.
At any age, a blow to the head is reason for concern and follow-up; sometimes, it is a medical emergency.
The Long Term Care Authority of Enid Caregiver program makes no distinctions on the grounds of race, color, sex, age, ancestry, nation origin, religion, or disability; and a portion of the project cost is met by state and federal Older American Act funds from the Long Term Care Authority of Enid and OKDHS Aging Services.
Rupp is care coordinator for Long Term Care Authority of Enid Aging Services. Contact her at 237-2236.