FORT LEE, Va. (March 14, 2013) -- March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Every 16 seconds in the United States, a person suffers a traumatic brain injury. This equals approximately 1.5 - 2 million traumatic brain injuries each year. Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability among children and young adults.
Even more alarming, traumatic brain injuries occur more frequently than do breast cancer cases, HIV/AIDS infections, multiple sclerosis cases and spinal injuries combined.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a traumatic brain injury or concussion, is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth.
Concussions or TBI are categorized as mild, moderate or severe; with the majority of concussions identified as mild. There are certain age groups that are at higher risk for concussions and include children from birth to four years old, teenagers 15-19 years old, and adults 65 years or older. Concussions occur in males more often than females.
The military community has higher rates of concussions than its civilian counterparts, mostly due to specific job duties, deployments and physical requirements. The leading causes of concussion are falls, motor vehicle accidents, struck by or against an object and assaults.
For the military service member, blast exposures are the primary mechanism of injury. When we look at children and teens, the main reasons for emergency department visits related to head injuries are bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball and soccer.
According to the Defense and Veteran’s Brain Injury Center in a report published by the Congressional Research Service in February, as of Aug. 20, 2012, 253,330 service members have been diagnosed with TBI. The statistic reflects an estimated 23 percent of service members returning from downrange or theater with a brain injury.
What are the symptoms of concussion? A concussion is defined by either a loss of consciousness or an alteration of consciousness (such as feeling dazed or confused, “saw stars”, or feeling like you got your bell rung). Along with these symptoms, the most common reactions fall into four categories: thinking/remembering, physical, emotional and sleep. These symptoms include headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, changes in vision, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, balance problems, anxiety, depression, irritability, and ringing in the ears.
Symptoms may occur immediately after injury or can take days or weeks after the initial injury. The important thing to remember is that most people recover quickly and fully.
To assist with recovery, it is recommended that the person abstain from activities that put them at risk for further injury and rest/sleep for optimal recovery.
How can we prevent concussions? There are some simple steps to help prevent concussions. First, use seat belts and properly fitted child safety seats while riding in a motor vehicle. Second, wear a helmet when participating in any of the following activities: bicycling, football, hockey, skates/skateboards, baseball/softball, horseback riding and skiing/snowboarding.
If you have already had a concussion in the past, you might be more likely to sustain another concussion, so prevention of further injury is the key.
What to do if you or someone you know may have had a concussion? People with a concussion need to be seen by a health care professional immediately after injury.
What resources are available at Fort Lee? The Department of Behavioral Health has a TBI Nurse Case Manager, Linda Wierzechowski, who can be contacted at (804) 734-9623.
For further information on concussions: visit www. cdc.gov or www.dvbic.org.
Linda Wierzechowski, Registered Nurse, KAHC, Department of Behavioral Health