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Protect your brain from injury

A “bump on the head” is not to be taken lightly. Brain damage can impact your life for many years to come. June is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Make sure you know the risks and do what you can to protect your brain.

Most of us have experienced a bump on the head at one time or another. Beyond a little bruising, maybe you shrugged it off. If you’ve been in a car accident – even a mild fender bender, or taken a tumble in sports and hit your head, you may have lost consciousness for a short time, or found yourself with a bad headache or temporary amnesia. If so, you probably have a concussion, or a brain injury.

There are two types of brain injuries: mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) and acquired brain injury (ABI). Traumatic brain injuries occur when an external force causes the brain to move inside the skull or damages the skull. Acquired brain injuries are usually associated with pressure on the brain from swelling.

A brain injury can be caused by a blow to the head, whiplash, or even a lack of oxygen to the brain.1 A brain injury changes the way your brain works. If left untreated, it can cause lasting damage, which can significantly affect your quality of life and independence.

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month. It’s a good time to learn more about brain injuries and how to prevent them from happening to you.

Prevent brain injuries

While brain injuries are accidental and often spontaneous, there are things you can do to prevent them. Roughly 50% of ABIs are the result of a fall or vehicle accident.[1] You can reduce the risk of brain injuries by:

  • Wearing a helmet and other protective equipment when playing contact sports – hockey helmets in Canada must meet the Canadian Standards Association's safety requirements.
  • Wear a helmet when cycling—studies have shown that helmet use while riding a bike can reduce brain injuries by 66% or greater[2]. Health Canada recommends that when buying a bicycle helmet, you should make sure that it has been certified by one or more of the following organizations:
  • Canadian Standard Association
  • Snell Memorial Foundation
  • American National Standard Institute
  • American Society for Testing and Materials
  • British Standards Institute
  • Standards Association of Australia
  • Supervise young children on playground equipment and ensure there is no hard ground beneath them.
  • Be cautious when riding a bike, especially if you share the road with vehicles.
  • If you’re driving, watch for cyclists on the road and give them as much room as possible.
  • Discard all damaged sports equipment. Replace helmets after a fall or crash - even if they do not appear to be cracked or broken.
  • Wear your seatbelt at all times. Make sure the headrest is positioned at the level of the top of your ears to protect against whiplash in the event of a rear-end collision.
  • Small children should be in properly installed car seats or booster seats until they are old enough to sit up front.
  • Install safety gates to prevent babies and toddlers from falling down the stairs.
  • Place non-slip bath mats in the bathtub and on the floor.
  • Keep your house and workplace free of clutter that could obstruct someone’s path and cause a fall. [3] [4] [5]

Have your head checked, even if you think you’re fine

If you’ve been in an accident where you’ve hit your head, you may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Inability to recall events just before or after the concussion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Irritated by light and noise
  • Moving sluggishly [6]

However, even if you don’t have any of these symptoms, you should still seek medical attention immediately to rule it out. Concussions can be treated if they aren’t left too long.[7] Doctors may do some neurological tests to check for balance, coordination, memory, and may even order a CT scan.

Be sure that your brain injury is documented by a doctor, or if you’ve been in an accident, call the police. You will need to provide confirmation of a brain injury for insurance purposes.

Rest is the next course of treatment. Physical rest is important, but so is cognitive rest. Your brain cells need to heal and over-stimulation prevents them from doing that. If you have a concussion, refrain from:

  • Watching TV
  • Texting and calling friends or family
  • Listening to music
  • Reading [8]

Possible long-term effects of brain injury

This year, 160,000 Canadians will acquire a brain injury.[9] Many will recover completely, while many others will experience the effects of brain injury for years to come. Every patient is different, and the long-term effects are related to the extent of injury, but they can include:

  • Cognitive impairments such as attention, memory, and the ability to speak and understand
  • Problems with vision, smell, taste and touch
  • Trouble doing math, telling right from left, following directions, recognizing objects
  • Anxiety, amnesia, depression, mood swings
  • Seizures, loss of coordination, partial paralysis, sudden muscle spasms and Parkinson’s disease
  • Loss of independence

Insurance options for acquired brain injury

Loss of Independence - If you have critical illness insurance and are stricken with a debilitating brain injury, you may be able to receive financial assistance. The Loss of Independence coverage, for example, pays a lump sum that can be used for medical assistance. You may qualify if, after 90 days, you are unable to do two of six identified activities required for daily living, and you have no reasonable chance of recovery. The activities include bathing, dressing, toileting and personal hygiene, managing bladder and bowel function, moving in and out of bed, or feeding yourself. Other coverages such as Blindness, Coma, and Loss of Speech (must meet defined conditions) may also apply.

Automobile Insurance – If you have been in a car accident, your policy or the at-fault driver’s policy may cover the costs of required medical treatment and physiotherapy. Consult your car insurance agent if you have questions regarding insurance compensation for any medical treatment, including physiotherapy.

A “bump on the head” is not to be taken lightly. You could find yourself with brain damage that will impact your daily life for many years to come. Make sure you know the risks and do what you can to protect your brain.

[1] http://braininjurycanada.ca/acquired-brain-injury/

[2] http://www.cochrane.org/CD001855/INJ_wearing-a-helmet-dramatically-reduces-the-risk-of-head-and-facial-injuries-for-bicyclists-involved-in-a-crash-even-if-it-involves-a-motor-vehicle

[3] http://www.brainline.org/content/2011/04/head-injury-prevention-tips.html

[4] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/traumatic-brain-injury/basics/prevention/con-20029302

[5] http://www.helmets.org/replace.htm

[6] http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_symptoms.html

[7] http://braininjurycanada.ca/acquired-brain-injury/prevention-and-treatment/

[8] http://www.brainline.org/content/2012/06/what-should-you-do-if-you-think-you-have-had-a-concussion.html

[9] http://braininjurycanada.ca/acquired-brain-injury/