Traumatic brain injuries are in the spotlight, but that's just the first step
When it comes to brain injury, the numbers tell the story. An estimated 1.7 million brain injury deaths, emergency department visits and hospitalizations occur annually in the United States. It's as if a group of individuals sharing a common injury created a city larger than Philadelphia or Phoenix each year. Every year.
The numbers also tell us that traumatic brain injury (TBI) annually contributes to nearly a third of all injury-related deaths in the U.S.and more than 275,000 hospitalizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that direct medical costs, combined with indirect costs such as lost productivity, add up to over $65 billion.
But the real story, the one embedded in the lives of TBI survivors, their families and their friends and caregivers, goes far beyond the numbers and the statistics. Right here in our own area, caring for patients with brain injury is an ongoing part of the services we provide at Riverside Rehabilitation Institute.
The personal impact of brain injury can be devastating. It can create despair in individuals, upheaval in families and a need on the part of some TBI survivors for long-term or even lifelong assistance to carry out the most basic activities of daily living.
It's at this juncture of complex medical condition, serious public health problem and human need and potential that Brain Injury Awareness Month shines a light on the ongoing need for research, improved treatment and rehabilitation, education and advocacy.
Iraq, Afghanistan and the NFL
Brain injury can sometimes be a silent condition. We may be unaware of the condition in people with milder forms of injury who may experience memory loss and some cognitive impairment. The significant attention that TBI has received in recent years stems from more serious injuries.
A large and very appropriate part of that attention has focused on our Wounded Warriors returning from battle zones with combat injuries that include the full continuum of traumatic brain injury. Even more recently brain injuries have made their way into the news due to concerns about former professional football players now suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurological disorder associated with sports-related concussion injuries.
These more publicized sources fall into the category of acquired brain injury. TBI falls within this category as well, distinguishing it from congenital disorders or degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer's. The enhanced public attention on TBI has had at least some halo effect on the far more common origins of the problem: everything from shaken baby syndrome and falls to stroke and motor vehicle accidents.
Is there anything we can do?
Brain injury can happen anytime, anywhere to anyone. As Brain Awareness Month reminds us, it never hurts to be more… aware. The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), headquartered in Vienna, Virginia, offers a wide range of information on resources, events and related news on its website, www.biausa.org. In addition, the chartered state affiliate, the Brain Injury Association of Virginia (BIAV), offers support to over 10,000 individuals with brain injury each year throughout the Tidewater region and the rest of the state. BIAV also reaches out to their families and caregivers. You can find out more at www.biav.net.
Both the national and state organizations focus on improving the quality of life for brain injury survivors and also offer information and education related to preventing brain injury. And that's something we can all use in the month of March and for the rest of the year.
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