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Preventing Brain Injuries During Winter Sport Season

Although summer is the season best known for outdoor activities, winter is often overlooked as a season full of outdoor fun and sports. From ice skating with a group of friends at the local rink to joining the ski team at school, there are numerous activities for everyone to enjoy as the snow falls and the temperatures begin to drop. As with every sporting activity, either for fun or as part of an organized league, there is the potential to be injured.

 

Sporting injuries often include sprains, strains, and minor fractures, but some of the most serious include a life changing brain injury. Here are some ways to prevent a brain injury while enjoying some of your favorite winter sports:

Snowboarding and Skiing

 

If you’ve ever hit the slopes, you may have noticed children as young as preschool aged and even elderly adults enjoying the skiing and snowboarding. For safety reasons, ski resorts often urge novice skiers and snowboarders  to use the “beginner” hills and for many beginners, the starter hill is big enough. Although people, who are new to skiing and snowboarding, may be more likely to be injured while flying down the hill, skiers and snowboarders of all ages and expertise levels are at risk of concussions, even professionally trained skiers and snowboarders.

 

The best way to avoid a head injury is to wear a helmet. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, approximately 10 million Americans ski or snowboard each year and an estimated 600,000 injuries are a result from hitting the slopes. Of those injuries, approximately 20% are head injuries, many were reported not wearing a helmet.

Ice Hockey and Ice Skating

 

Have you ever wondered why hockey players wear a helmet and a figure skater doesn’t? While hockey players are at a much greater risk for suffering a TBI, due to the contact nature of the sport, figure skaters could be a risk of bumping his or her head with a fall during a routine. Again, the level of expertise doesn’t automatically make you immune from getting a head injury.

 

Children are at a particularly high risk for head injuries when participating in ice sports. If your child wants to get involved in winter ice sports, it’s crucial that he or she wears a helmet, particularly in the learning stages. Talk to the instructors and see what their protocol is for preventing head injuries and other types of injuries.

 

All Other Types of Winter Activities

Winter is full of fun activities from sledding, curling, snowshoeing, and walking around the neighborhood during a light snowfall. While many of these types of activities seem relatively harmless, you are still at risk of a head injury. Why? Ice is the dangerous factor in a majority of winter sport injuries. It’s often hard to see and it can be hard to recover once you start slipping. Wearing a helmet all day long is not a feasible option, but you can reduce your risk by wearing ice cleats on your boots or shoes and walk slowly, focusing on the surface on which you’re walking.

TBIs, Ruling Out the Unlikely

nutrition for brain injury

Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBIs, are head injuries caused by significant external force that lead to brain damage.

 

The keyword is ‘significant’, because while not all head injuries lead to brain damage, all brain injuries do. This is because the human skull has, over thousands of years, evolved to provide an  almost perfect protective container for the brain. When the container fails, so do the contents.

 

All TBIs are Acquired brain injuries, or ABIs. These are, by definition, injuries to the brain that cause neurological dysregulation, meaning that the brain is not functioning properly.

 

There are several kinds of ABIs, and all refer to any brain damage not present at birth. They include Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, various neurological disorders called dystonias, strokes, and brain aneurysms (burst blood vessels).

 

When diagnosing a TBI, doctors need to rule out these causes to confirm an actual brain injury. Parkinson’s can be the result of a brain injury, but is rarely the cause.

 

With a diagnosis in hand, lawyers can proceed to petition for Social Security disability for TBI victims. The process of getting disability can be long and arduous, but it is also possible to get a finding of TBI disability within 3 months post-injury, under Section 11.18.

 

As the Brain Injury Clubhouse notes, here are countless methods victims can use to achieve partial, even full, recovery.

 

Traumatic Brain Injury Causes

 

The force needed to cause a TBI causes the brain to be jostled inside the skull, usually with enough force to create shearing and tearing of the nerves in the brain.

 

These extreme forces can be incurred in an auto accident, an explosion, a fall, domestic violence or terroristic incidents (muggings, shootings, etc.), severe weather episodes like tornadoes and hurricanes, and sports injuries.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, the main causes of TBIs are:

 

  1. Falls, 28 percent
  2. Motor vehicle accidents, 20 percent
  3. Impact events (struck by or against), 19 percent
  4. Assaults, 11 percent

 

Of all these causes, sports injuries are currently receiving the most scrutiny. Most are football and soccer related, but some also involve ice hockey, wrestling, or boxing, and even horseback riding and water polo.

 

Approximately one out of every three injury-related deaths involves a TBI. More than six million Americans now live with a TBI-related disability. A TBI occurs once every 15 seconds in the United States. Experts estimate the direct and indirect medical costs of TBIs in 2014 at $75.6 billion – up $15.6 billion since 2000.

 

The Worst of the Worst

 

In spite of the fact that football is a very obvious cause of TBIs, especially among the highly vulnerable 14-24 set, it is not the most dangerous sporting activity.

 

This, in spite of the fact that the number of reported football concussions doubled in the decade from 2002 to 2012. Among high school athletes, football is  responsible for almost 50 percent of concussions, accounting for up to 7.6 percent.

 

Ice hockey and soccer take second and third place – Hockey at 5.4 percent and girl’s soccer at 3.3 percent.

 

Boy’s basketball comes in at about 2.1 percent, while cheerleading tags a surprising 1.4 percent. Football is not the worst sport in terms of brain injury.

 

In fact, generally speaking, while many so-called “collision” sports have drawn attention to the inherent risks of colliding with another human body, or the dirt, participation in these sports may also confer a host of societal benefits. Not the least of which is a sense of community and solidarity.

 

Horseback riding, or equestrianism, is the third leading cause of TBIs among young people, accounting for 33 percent. Among all ages, it is the leading cause of TBIs.

 

Active combat and military duty, in 2016, resulted in only 4,592 cases of TBI, down from 22,637 a year earlier.

5 Online Resources for TBI Survivors

TBI

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are often terrifying, disorienting, and disruptive for their victims. After a TBI, the whole world can feel new, and not in a good way. Everyday tasks can become confusing. Reading, exercising, and even eating can leave you puzzled and irritable. If you’ve recently had a TBI, there’s a good change you feel like you could use a helping hand.

 

So where is a TBI survivor to look for guidance? Plenty of people in your life are probably already offering unsolicited advice, and much of that advice is probably second-hand information they gleaned from pamphlet at the doctor’s office. These people mean well, of course, but when you’re suffering from a TBI, you need to hear from someone who’s been there. Luckily, many TBI survivors and medical professionals provide good resources for the TBI-stricken person.

Faces of TBI

Faces of TBI is an online resource aiming to bring information and inspiration to people with TBIs. Its founder, Amy Zellmer, has written several good blogs about TBIs (and many other topics) for Huffington Post over the years. She knows what she’s talking about, being a survivor herself. On Faces of TBI’s site, Zellmer offers blogs, a podcast, a book, and other resources for people living with TBIs and everyone interested in learning more.

Social Media

Sometimes, all you need to chat or just listen to someone who’s going through the same thing as you. Social media offers many spots where people with TBIs can log in and trade stories, write posts, and stay in contact with sympathetic voices. Facebook, Tumblr, and many online messageboards all have support communities. Seek them out in order to communicate with people in your situation. Sometimes just expressing your feelings is the best path to healing.

Brainline.org

Brainline offers blog, primers, and other media with advice about life, science, news, and other topics of interest to anyone with or who is interested in TBIs. Their site also offers high quality accessibility features such as easily resizable text, text-only versions, and a Spanish language version. They also have a free newsletter and a variety of social media outreach programs. Bookmark Brainline if you’re looking for high-quality content relevant to anyone whose life is affected by a TBI.   

The Brain Injury Association of America

The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) is a long-running group that offers information and advocacy for people with TBIs. Their site offers advice to people to help them find work, advocate for themselves politically, and connect with other people in similar situations.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Looking to dig into science and medical research? Here you go. This extensive resource is part of the National Institute of Health, and it offers loads of hard scientific information and analysis about TBIs (as well as other medical conditions). Keep in mind that the information on this site might require medical training, or at least a good deal of patience and effort. But if you’re looking for reliable research into TBIs, this is a solid place to find it.

Does a Language Barrier Prevent Proper Care for Brain Injuries?

language barrier

When you or someone you love suffers from a traumatic brain injury, it can be a scary experience that can often become complicated and difficult to understand. Now imagine if your native language prevents you from understanding or receiving the care you or your loved one needs to recover from a life changing injury? A new study out of the University of Washington reveals that children from families, where English is not their first language or have a limited understanding of English, are less likely to get the important rehabilitative care they need after suffering from a TBI.

 

The Study

The University of Washington conducted a study, surveying almost 300 various health care providers, throughout the state of Washington, who specialize in physical/occupational therapy, speech, language, cognitive therapy, and mental health services; all of these services are important for brain injury rehabilitation. Research results revealed that less than 20% of health care providers provide language interpretation to non-English speaking children, who have suffered a TBI, and their families and only 8% provide mental health services to children with a TBI. Additionally, only 46% of providers accepted children with Medicaid, which resulted in fewer rehabilitation services than patients who are covered by private insurance.

Sadly, due to the language barrier and the inability to receive private insurance, many children who suffer brain injuries may never receive proper and crucial care they need, particularly when their brains are still developing.

 

Children and Brain Injuries

Children ages 0 to 4 and 15 to 19 are at greatest risk of suffering a traumatic brain injury and youth brain injuries are much different than those of adults. It is often assumed that children “bounce back” faster from a brain injury or are not affected as severely as an adult, however, a child’s brain injury is often more devastating to a developing brain. Additionally, certain impairments, such as cognitive, may not be easily identified or even present immediately after a TBI occurs. As a result, many children suffer from delayed effects and face challenges for a lifetime, requiring long term rehabilitative care. Children may also have a difficult time expressing how he or she feels or accurately describe any challenges he or she may be having with judgement, reasoning, or processing information.

Now, consider a child (and his or her parents), who does not speak the same language as his or her doctor. Not only is there the possibility of a delay in getting immediate treatment, but he or she may continue to struggle as he or she gets older, particularly if crucial services are not available.

 

Bridging the Gap

Although it may be baffling as to why children, regardless of their economic status or language, are not receiving the care they need, a solution needs to bridge the gap in adequate health care. Since a significant amount of care that a child may need after a brain injury happens outside of the hospital, medical health care professionals are responsible in helping families make the right connections in their community, regardless of their financial status or first language.

 

Nutrition Helping Brain Injuries

nutrition for brain injury

An injury to your body can be extremely debilitating. It can inhibit normal functions like driving, picking up objects off the floor, getting out of bed in the morning, and even brushing your teeth. Injuries are frustrating as they are painful and interrupt your life. The most difficult injury one might face is an injury to the head that can severely affect the mind. In some cases one can develop memory loss, severe headaches, vocal challenges, and bodily functions. Some people; unfortunately, never fully recover.

 

According to the Institute of Medicine, someone suffers a traumatic brain injury every 23 seconds. Brain injuries are common among athletes, those in vehicle accidents, and service members. Leaving an injury untreated can lead to paralysis and death.  Studies have shown that nutrition can also help in the healing process. Eating the right foods can help stimulate brain activity and soothe traumatized areas. Nutrition is the key to restoring normalcy to the brain and body. Yet the amount of food intake should be modified and measured in the very beginning as the patient is in a very delicate state.

 

Nutrition Options for rehabilitation:

 

Eating healthy is known to be part of the healing process for brain injury victims. One of the richest foods that a person with a brain injury can consume is omega-3 fatty acids. According to studies, most Americans are deficient in omega-3, and are said to have deficiencies associated with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. Omega-3 fatty acids make up part of brain cells and are contained in like flaxseed, fish oil, fish and walnuts. These ingredients are essentially brain food and are essential in helping rehabilitate trauma caused by brain injuries.

 

Eating foods high in protein help in the healing process. Proteins like fish, beans and chicken contain amino acids that also help repair damaged tissues in the body. Other foods vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are also healthy options. Eggs and peanuts are also necessary for the brain’s healing as they contain a vitamin called choline. And finally, you can never go wrong with water. Water is perhaps the most crucial for people living with brain injuries. Since dehydration impairs brain function, it is invaluable that someone with a brain injury drink water. It is best to consult one’s physician for recommended dosage.

 

Some Practical Ways to Help Heal:

 

Food to avoid during healing. Caffeine, salty foods, excessive sweets and candy, alcohol are among the things to avoid if you’re recovering from a brain injury.

 

Exercise. Never underestimate the importance of exercise. Brain injury victims who exercise during recovery are said to experience less depression, have fewer cognitive complaints and symptoms, and irritability. It is important to consult with a physician as over-exerting yourself may regress the healing process.

 

Acupuncture. Acupuncture is said to help soothe brain injury as it alleviates headaches, helps with sleep, and helps with overall wellness.   .

 

Taking pain medicine is also helpful during recovery and under the observation of a physician,  as it can help soothe pain and trauma. Patients should consider numerous avenues during the healing process, including therapy with a counselor, and physical therapy. Sensitive and intensive care is important during recovery.

Do Brain Injuries Lead to Violence?

violence

Recently, in the news, it was revealed that the mercurial and violent King Henry VIII may have become the person he was known for due to numerous head injuries throughout his life. Henry VIII, infamously known for having two of his six wives executed and by being a tyrannical leader with sociopathic tendencies had at least three traumatic brain injuries, one in a jousting accident. While Henry VIII was not known to be a man of “good health”, he also was known to suffer from memory issues and other behaviors that are often directly linked to head injuries.

 

Linking traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) to violent behaviors does not make violence towards others a passable excuse nor should it necessarily be used in the line of defense, but it helps researchers better understand the potential effects of TBIs and how to strive to prevent them.

Football & Violence

 

In recent years, professional football players have become the faces behind traumatic brain injuries. Not only have TBIs and reoccurring concussions been attributed to memory loss issues in retired football players well before their “golden years”, but similar head injuries have been suggested to have a correlation between football players and domestic violence.

 

According to a report from USA Today, there were 38 arrests of NFL players in 2015. Of the arrests, there were 15 arrests made because of violent behavior including animal cruelty, sexual battery, assault, and domestic violence. Domestic violence resulted in 6 arrests or about 15% of all NFL arrests in 2015.

 

Does it mean that all of the football players, who were arrested on violent charges, had suffered from recurrent head injuries? No, but given the statistics surrounding former football players and head injuries (96% of football players studied had signs of a brain injury), a head injury could very well contribute to violent behavior.

 

Here’s another thing to consider: According to Dr. Allison Brooks, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, football players are also prone to high risk behavior (playing football is risky) and may choose to partake in alcohol, drug use, and other high-risk factors that could contribute to violent behavior.

Do All Brain Injuries Lead to Violent Behavior?

 

The answer to this question is simply, “No”. If all brain injuries lead to violent behavior, there would be an even more staggering amount of violence. The behavioral changes that take place after a brain injury greatly depend on where, within the brain, the injury occurred. For instance, if the cerebellum (or base of skull) is injured, the individual may experience loss of coordination or the ability to walk or grab.

 

When the frontal lobe (the area behind the forehead) is injured, the changes of behavior may include intolerance for frustration and easily provoked aggressive behavior.

It’s important to remember that although an individual may have sustained a TBI to the frontal lobe, it cannot be assumed that every individual will exhibit aggressive behavior and/or act out on those tendencies.

 

Energy Drinks & TBI

 

Between extra curricular activities like sports, an afterschool job, and a backpack full of homework, as a parent of a busy teenager, you may consider yourself to be lucky if you see your teen at all. Like millions of other young people, your teenager may drink one of the many popular energy drinks from time to time to keep going. If you’re bothered by your teen’s consumption of the sugary and highly caffeinated drink, there’s another reason to urge your teenager to stop drinking energy drinks. Recent studies suggest that teens who drink energy drinks may be more likely to have a traumatic brain injury.

Link Between Energy Drinks and TBIs

 

If your teen drinks an energy drink every now and then it doesn’t automatically mean that he or she will suffer a head injury, but according to a recent Canadian study published in PLOS ONE, the chances may be greater. Researchers theorize that young people who drink energy drinks on a regular basis may be bigger risk takers which may result in traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Think of the advertising that surrounds energy drinks. It isn’t targeted to the young people who spend their time studying, but rather those who are into extreme sports or young people who want to be “wild” or the life of a party.

 

Additionally, teens who reported having a TBI in the past year were 7 times more likely to report drinking at least five energy drinks within a week. The data is compared to teens, within the same age group, who did not have a TBI. Even more troubling results from the study reveal that of the 10,272 teens, between 7th and 12th grade, those who had experienced a TBI within a year were more likely to drink energy drinks mixed with alcohol. Not only is that behavior problematic in terms of underage drinking, but the level of caffeine in energy drinks masks alcohol making it harder to determine when to stop drinking alcohol.

Permanent Damage

 

Given the information revealed in the study, there could be a strong argument that alcohol is really the issue when it comes to teens and TBIs, but more research needs to be done. Researchers conclude that energy drinks with a high amount of caffeine and alcohol, both consumed on their own, can have damaging effects on a developing brain. Remember, the brain doesn’t fully develop until mid-20s to early 30s. Any damage that occurs during the development stages can be permanent. Energy drinks and alcohol can have the same effects on the brains as illicit drugs. Not only can it affect a young person’s brain, but also damage overall health and lead to death.

 

What Can You Do?

As a parent, it may be difficult to take control of your teen’s energy drink consumption, particularly if he or she has a busy extra curricular or social life. The best way to encourage healthy habits is by modeling healthy habits. When you have an open and honest discussion with your teen about drug use and other risky behaviors, incorporate energy drink use into the discussion. If your son or daughter plays sports or stays up late doing homework, encourage natural ways of boosting energy through foods, water, or even caffeinated tea or a small cup of coffee. You can’t keep your teen away from the world of energy drinks, but you can help him or her know the potential dangers.

 

Back to School & Preventing Brain Injuries

During spring and summer months, as well as weekends, children are more likely to have head injuries, particularly when they are most active outdoors. As a result, many parents find it hard to keep their children injury-free during summer vacation, but once school starts the incidence of injury continues with school sports and during regular activities throughout the school day.

 

Although tripping, falling, and getting minor bumps and bruises seem to be a natural part of being a kid, injuries to the head must always be taken seriously. The Brain Injury Association of America reports that each year, 62,000 children between the ages of 0-19 sustain brain injuries that require hospitalization. Additionally, over 500,000 are treated in the ER for TBI. While you can’t always prevent injuries from occurring, you can make sure your children are safe at school and during extracurricular activities.

In the Classroom, On the Playground

 

Teachers do their best to closely monitor children in the classroom and in the hallways, but children are notorious for goofing around, not thinking about the potentially dangerous outcome. The playground can be particularly dangerous and a frequent place for injuries, despite the close monitoring from a trained staff member. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. Although you can’t watch every move your child makes during his or her school day, you can remind him or her how to stay safer at school.

 

  • Avoid engaging in horseplay. Pulling on a friend’s shirt during a game of tag or purposefully bumping or tripping a classmate can cause serious injuries.

 

  • Don’t lean back in chairs and keep all four legs of the chair on the floor. If the chair slips, your child could hit his or her head on the floor, causing a brain injury.

 

  • Follow all rules in the classroom, in the lunchroom, in the hallways, and on the playground.

 

Additionally, as a parent, you should recognize the signs of a TBI, in case your child comes home from school seeming a little “off”. If he or she was engaging in unsafe behaviors he or she may be more likely to withhold information about an injury.

After School, On the Field

 

Organized sports are a wonderful way for your child to gain confidence, be healthy, and work as a team player. Unfortunately, sports are also a common way to receive a life-changing head injury. From a bicycle ride with friends after school to leading the school in a cheer while flipping in the air to making a touchdown before being tackled, most types of sports are potentially dangerous and can lead to a TBI. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to be involved in your child’s extra curricular sports. Showing up and cheering your son or daughter on is encouraging, but make sure the sport is as safe as possible.

 

Talk to the coaches about their safety plans or how they treat head injuries. Do they make players stay out of games until they are given a “go ahead” or are they put back in the game right away? Do players wear protective gear all the time or only during games or matches? Is the sport age appropriate for your child or is it too aggressive? Anytime you feel like your child’s safety is in danger, you should speak up; it could prevent a TBI.

Can Video Games Help With Brain Surgery Rehabilitation?

Do video games help recovering brain surgery patients? As reported in an article on Gizmodo, video games aided the recovery of Eric Levasseur, a patient who had to undergo 7 brain surgeries in an eleven-month period to stop his epileptic grand mal seizures. Eric’s side effects after the surgeries included memory loss, impaired speech, and short-term memory impairment.

According to the article, Eric’s doctor recommended brain training games on Luminosity, but the patient found them too difficult and too much like work, and elected to play Destiny, a multiplayer online game instead, with his doctor’s approval. Eric was able to play for increasingly longer periods without any noticeable impairment, and soon he was mapping out strategies and earning a reputation among players, as stated in the article.

In the game of Destiny, a player must have friends to go on Raids, as discussed in an article on the Daily Dot. As Eric had difficulty communicating, Raids with other players were a problem for him. When Eric’s wife, Brittany, included that information in a Reddit post, the Destiny community organized Raiding parties to assist him. As covered in the Gizmodo article, Eric has a long recovery road ahead, but playing Destiny could help make it shorter, and easier to endure.

There is evidence to suggest that video games can help victims recover from injuries to the brain. A Medpage Today article reports on a study conducted in Vienna in which TBI patients used video games to effectively improve their coordination. According to the article, researchers noted significantly improved scores for gait, balance, and functional reach in patients who participated in a virtual therapy session supported by Microsoft Xbox Kinect. Researchers also found that coordination, dynamic stability, and precision from baseline were greatly improved by this video game therapy.

The Games for Health Journal published an abstract of a structured literature review of the use of video games and virtual reality for rehabilitation after TBI. These researchers concluded that, although the evidence that virtual reality helps improve motor and cognitive function is limited, this approach does have the potential to provide alternative rehabilitation therapy for TBI patients.

The Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association offers a number of tools and aids for recovering brain injury patients. Links to various games are provided as helpful resources. Luminosity is listed and described as brain training that is effective. According to the association, Luminosity can make you smarter and more mentally fit, regardless of your age. The association also provides links to arcade games, strategy games, card games, and word games among its many resources.

Professional Sports and the Risk of Brain Injury

When San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland made the decision to retire in his prime, it once again called attention the risks of suffering a traumatic brain injury that professional athletes face when playing America’s most popular sport. Many players are looking at the future and considering their health as more important than a career in professional football. A massive paycheck, at the end of the day, cannot balance out the health impacts that many of these athletes suffer later in life, or take place while playing the game. Borland felt that he didn’t want to wait until he suffered symptoms to quit the game; that could be too late, and he felt that he would prefer to live a long, healthy life.

The NFL has been avoiding this issue, and has consistently downplayed the symptoms that athletes playing pro football face after repeat concussions. There was much research that revealed that players were susceptible to various health problems from repeated head trauma, and despite the research to the contrary, the NFL was responsible for funding a study that claimed that the sport did not pose any extraordinary risk to players, and has even blamed journalists for shining a light on the problem, rather than dealing with traumatic brain injuries as a real issue of concern that must be addressed and resolved.

The Impact on the Brain: Repeated Concussions

Findings released by Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2005, as reported by Frontline, revealed that the autopsy findings on Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster who passed away at the early age of 50 showed that he had the brain of a much older person. PBS reports that other autopsies on former NFL players clearly indicated that in 76 out of 79 cases, the players had evidence of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative disease of the brain associated with repeated brain trauma and concussions).

Whether the NFL finally admits to the problem and addresses it or continues to try to downplay that this is a serious issue of concern, it has become ultimately clear that sports professionals are at high risk of suffering serious health problems associated with the pounding they take to the head in tackling and being tackled. Children involved in sports are also at risk of such injuries, and parents would be prudent to discuss these issues with coaches and trainers before allowing a child to participate in a sports program that could endanger their health for the long term.

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