FORT EUSTIS, Va. (March 12, 2013) -- March is National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries annually, and TBI is a contributing factor for nearly a third of injury-related deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries annually, and TBI is a contributing factor for nearly a third of injury-related deaths and 235,000 yearly hospitalizations. (According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries annually, and TBI is a contributing factor for nearly a third of injury-related deaths and 235,000 yearly hospitalizations. (Graphic by Matt Staley)
What is TBI?
Traumatic brain injury is defined as a blow, jolt or other injury to the head that disrupts the functioning of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. A TBI can occur from exposure to blasts, falls, gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents. Blasts are the leading cause of TBI for active duty military personnel in war zones.
A mild TBI, also known as a concussion, may make you briefly feel confused or “see stars.” Common temporary symptoms associated with a concussion include headache, ringing ears, blurred vision, dizziness, irritability, sleep problems and problems with memory and concentration.
The symptoms of a concussion generally improve in a short period of time, usually within hours, and typically resolve completely within days to weeks.
The following tips can minimize the risk of sustaining a TBI both on the battlefield and at home:
Prevention in a combat setting
• Wear a helmet or other appropriate head gear when on patrol or in other high risk areas.
• Wear safety belts when traveling in vehicles.
• Check for obstacles and loose debris before climbing or rappelling down buildings or other structures.
• Inspect weapons prior to use.
• Verify targets and consider the potential for ricochet prior to firing a weapon.
• Maintain clean and orderly work environments that are free of foreign object debris.
• Use care when walking on wet, oily or sandy surfaces.
• Be aware of what is on the ground around you at all times when aircraft rotors are turning.
• Employ the buddy system when climbing ladders or working at heights.
Prevention at home
• Wear your seatbelt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle.
• Never drive or ride with anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Always buckle your child into an age appropriate child safety seat, booster seat or seat belt while riding in a car.
• Wear a helmet that is fitted and properly maintained while at work and while at play, if required.
• During athletic games, use the right protective equipment.
• Keep firearms stored unloaded in a locked cabinet or a safe. Store bullets in a separate secure location.
• Avoid falls in the home by:
- Using a step stool with a grab bar to reach objects on high shelves.
- Installing handrails on stairways.
- Installing window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows.
- Using safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around.
- Maintaining a regular exercise program to improve strength, balance and coordination.
- Removing tripping hazards by using non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors, and putting grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower.
- Make sure the surface on your child’s playground is made of shock-absorbing material (e.g., hardwood mulch, sand).
Do’s and don’ts in recovering from a concussion
• Do maximize downtime/rest during the day (temporary impairments resolve fastest when the brain gets rest).
• Do get plenty of sleep.
• Do avoid activities such as contact sports that could result in another concussion until you are better.
• Do let others know that you’ve had a concussion so they can watch out for you.
• Do see your medical provider if you begin to feel worse or experience worsening headache, worsening balance, double vision or other vision changes, decreasing level of alertness, increased disorientation, repeated vomiting, seizures, unusual behavior or amnesia/memory problems.
• Do seek behavioral health treatment for lingering irritability and emotional changes.
• Do be patient as healing from a brain injury can take a few days.
• Do not use alcohol or drugs.
Kerri Bresnan, Psy.D., Neuropsychologist and Zoe Whitaker, RN, McDonald Army Health Center