Thursday, March 14, 2013

When a Knock to the Noggin is not Okay

     A physician once said to me, “I can fix broken bones, but I cannot fix broken heads.” As parents, we do everything in our power to protect our children from harm. Yet despite our best efforts, last year Meritus Medical Center treated 217 patients under the age of 16 with concussions, and another 457 patients who were over the age of 16.

     Concussions are not uncommon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that 1.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Traumatic brain injury happens when a bump, blow, jolt or other head injury causes damage to the brain. As the number of concussion cases and awareness continues to grow, a local group is making sure that high school athletes with concussions get the right assessment at the right time.

     The Brain Injury Community Outreach Council, a volunteer group of medical professionals, teachers, trainers and parents, educate the community about protecting youth from head trauma. Last year, the council implemented concussion, or “impact,” testing at Smithsburg High School, and plan to expand the program to other Washington County high schools.

     Here’s how “impact testing” works: after an injury occurs, athletes sit at a computer and respond to questions related to sustained attention, visual-motor processing speed, visual and verbal memory, selective attention and reaction time to name a few measures. The results can identify whether or not the student has suffered a brain injury and needs to see a doctor.

     The test takes the guesswork out of determining the extent of the injury right after the event. For parents, physicians and coaches, the test helps decide when an injured athlete can return to play following a concussion. And when it comes to your head, the risk for more serious injury occurs when an athlete gets a concussion and continues to play, or returns to play before the brain has fully healed.

Help for parents
     By next school year, the council plans to expand concussion testing to all Washington County schools and involve the Meritus Health school nurses. As a parent, there’s much you can do to prevent a serious head injury:
  • Protect your child’s head by requiring them to wear a helmet when biking, skiing and skateboarding. 
  • Know the signs of a concussion and seek medical attention when necessary. 
  • Give detailed information to your healthcare provider about your child’s head injury and behavior post-injury. 
  • Closely monitor head injuries and tell coaches about any concussions your child experiences. 
  • Explain the seriousness of a brain injury to your child. It’s not ok to shake off a head injury. 
  • Let your child’s brain heal after a brain injury by prohibiting physical and mental activities (this includes video games, Facebooking and texting). 

     Serious brain injuries can lead to problems with thinking, memory, reasoning, communication and depression as well as personality changes. That’s why it’s important to know the signs and seek medical attention fast.

What to look for after a head injury 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Difficulty following directions 
  • Slowed reaction time 
  • Fatigue or insomnia 
  • Headaches, nausea, blurry vision 
  • Sensitivity to light or noise 
  • Changes in behavior 
  • Reduced tolerance to stress and/or busy environments 
  • Disoriented/impaired memory/can’t recall events just prior to or after the injury 

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. If you’d like more information on brain injuries, please call 301-790-8618.

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