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March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

It’s hard to read a newspaper or watch the news these days without being exposed to some sort of story relating to traumatic brain injury – and in a strange way, I’m glad. Head injuries and their effects on families have been ignored for far too long, with debilitating consequences. It’s time to shine the light on this disturbing health problem, and one way to do that is by marking March as National Brain Injury Awareness Month.

It may seem like there are more head injuries today than there were 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. However, I think we are simply more skilled and vigilant at diagnosing head injuries now than we were before. Take, for instance, the recent media attention regarding chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which has become all-too-common among retired boxers and football players. We used to think that athletes in dangerous sports simply became a little “punch-drunk” when they got older. Now we know that serious changes occur in the brains of those who have suffered multiple concussions that ultimately lead to behavior changes, functional disabilities, and sometimes deadly mental health problems.

We need National Brain Injury Awareness Month to help the general public become aware of the risks and consequences of brain injuries – not only among famous athletes, but among our families and within our communities. Here are a few things to know:

What is traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a jolt or blow to the head or a penetrating head injury resulting in a disruption of brain function. Considered by the CDC to be a significant public health problem, TBI affects as many as 1.7 million Americans each year.

Are there different kinds of TBI?

TBIs can occur at different levels of severity. It’s also important to know that not all bumps to the head result in TBIs. A TBI can range from mild – meaning that only a brief change in mental status or consciousness occurred – to severe, meaning that the person may have lost consciousness for a longer period of time or experienced amnesia. Concussions are the most common form of TBI we hear about and are usually considered “mild” forms of TBI. However, multiple concussions over time can lead to cumulative damage to the brain.

What are the effects of TBI?

Again, it depends on the number and severity of head injuries the person has experienced, as well as what part of the brain has been damaged. People with severe head injuries can experience changes in thinking, memory, behavior, emotional stability, movement, balance, bowel and bladder function, and the ability to care for oneself. Experts have suggested that the recent suicides of retired NFL players Dave Duerson and Junior Seau were a result of the chronic traumatic encephalopathy they experienced after repeated head injuries.

Where can families get help?

If you have suffered a TBI or are caring for someone with a head injury, it’s important to learn as much as you can and to find what resources are available to help you cope with this condition. The website of the Brain Injury Association of America offers ample information and resources for families. The organization also has a network of chapters across the country that offer workshops and support groups to help families connect and learn together.

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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