January 20th, 2021

Protecting your brain

By Jensen, Randy on June 17, 2020.

Andrea Klassen

Alberta Health Services

June is National Brain Injury Awareness Month and a great time to be mindful of your greatest asset. Brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in Canadians under the age of 40 with approximately 1.5 million Canadians living with an acquired brain injury (Brain Injury Canada, 2020). Acquired brain injuries have a higher annual incidence than that of Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injury, HIV/AIDS and breast cancer combined (Brain Injury Canada, 2020).

An acquired brain injury (ABI) is an injury that refers to any damage that has occurred to the brain after birth that is not related to a congenital or degenerative disease. This can include traumatic injury, seizures, tumours and events where the brain was deprived of adequate oxygen, infectious disease and toxic exposure such as substance abuse. Acquired brain injury can affect all aspects of your life including physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural changes (Brain Injury Canada, 2020).

We are going to focus on awareness around concussions. A traumatic acquired brain injury can often cause a concussion. This can happen when the brain is shaken back and forth inside your skull which causes injury to the brain. Without proper treatment, the brain often does not heal and the effects of the concussion can worsen. A concussion can be mild, moderate or severe and are classified based on your symptoms and how long they last. Seeking immediate medical attention if you have had a trauma to your head, neck, face or a blow to your body that jars your head is vitally important.

Some of the symptoms of a concussion include (Brain Injury Canada, 2020): amnesia; confusion; headache; loss of consciousness; balance problems or dizziness; double or fuzzy vision; sensitivity to light or noise; nausea; feeling sluggish, foggy, or groggy; feeling unusually irritable; concentration or memory problems; and slowed reaction time.

Concussions can also quite easily happen in children of any age. The symptoms can sometimes be harder to identify if your child is too young to communicate how they are feeling. You can assess the situation by asking yourself these questions (Brain Injury Canada, 2020):

– Is my child acting normally?

– Are they more drowsy than normal?

– Has their behaviour changed?

It is also important to watch for signs of concussion in babies and toddlers. Sometimes signs may not appear right away and can take hours or days to develop and become evident. Some of these symptoms can include (Brain Injury Canada, 2020):

– Crying when their head is moved;

– Excessive crying;

– Acting different, irritable or a change in temperament;

– Changes in their sleeping routine;

– A visible bump or bruise on their head;

– Vomiting or nausea;

– Not wanting to play or do things they normally enjoy;

– Sensitivity to light or noise;

– Balance problems;

– Looking like they are daydreaming

– Drowsiness; and

– Confused or forgetting recent events.

If there are any signs, symptoms or concerns if your child has fallen and hit their head, you should take them to the doctor or emergency room immediately.

With the warmer weather and everyone trying to get out of their house it is important to be aware and try to prevent any potential of an acquired brain injury. Wearing the proper gear (helmets) when playing sports, riding bikes or participating in any other recreational activity is really important.

Always watch your child when they are playing on playground equipment or climbing outside and keeping within five feet of them to prevent the risk of falling and hitting their head. And if you or your child has fallen or had an injury to your head or neck then make sure to look for the signs and symptoms of a concussion, this can greatly increase your healing time if you are able to be diagnosed early on.

Get out there this summer and have fun but be smart and remember to protect your greatest asset.

Andrea Klassen is a Health Promotion Facilitator with Alberta Health Services. She can be reached by email, andrea.klassen@ahs.ca.

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