IDAHO — After a year of canceled or delayed summer fun, normal activities are returning in 2021. Unfortunately, that could mean an uptick in injuries, including traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
"Every nine seconds, someone in the United States sustains a brain injury, and this amounts to 2.9 million brain injuries a year, including 62,000 hospitalizations among children," says Dr. Amy Khan, Executive Medical Director for Regence BlueShield of Idaho. "Keep in mind this is on top of the already 5.3 million kids and adults who are living with a permanent brain injury. That's one out of 60 people."
Idaho has already seen a number of accidents involving ATVs and UTVs, and with summer activities in full swing, any number of those could lead to TBI.
"We're thinking about anything that involves a force to traumatize the brain so think falls, motor vehicle crashes, of course, sports injuries, but also physical assault, even physical abuse," Dr. Khan explains.
When it comes to trying to figure out if an adult or child may have a brain injury, remember the symptoms are actually very similar for both age groups.
"You want to look for things like speech changes, visual changes, complaints of headaches, nausea, cognitive impairments including things like short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and even some emotional-type symptoms like mood swings or anxiety."
Dr. Khan says the key thing to remember is that the younger someone who experiences TBI is, the more devastating of an impact it could have since their brain is still developing.
She adds that keeping children and adults alike safe from TBI starts with education and some preventative measures.
"In addition to becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of head trauma, concussion, etc., it's really important to take those steps to stay safe. That includes wearing a helmet as well as for younger children, using booster seats and car seats," Dr. Khan suggests. "You also want to think about your visibility during the day. For example, wear bright or fluorescent clothing. At nighttime, reflective gear. Clothing can be extremely helpful. You don't want to get hit by a car, for example, if you're out biking."
When you're looking for a helmet, make sure it fits well and is snug against your or your child's head.
"One that is age-appropriate and that it's consistently worn, and of course, make sure that the helmet itself is appropriate for the use," says Dr. Khan.
Other ways to reduce the risk for younger children include making sure you're visiting playgrounds or parks with soft material like mulch or sand, not grass or dirt. Some sports also have certain brain safety rules to follow i.e. kids 10 and under should not head the ball in soccer while kids 11 to 13 should only do so during practice.
The CDC has created a public awareness campaign showing kids, parents, coaches, and healthcare providers how to recognize, respond to, and minimize the risk of brain injuries in children. For more on Heads Up, click here.