CAUTION: Brain Safety Ahead

Helmets: they come in a variety of sizes and colors, from a sleek gun-metal grey to a full collage of Disney Princesses. They are cheap and easy to purchase, and there are different types for different activities. While they might not exactly support the fashion statement we’re aiming for, when it comes to brain injuries, helmets save lives.

Brain Injuries By The Numbers

Think helmets are for kids only? Think again. Protecting our brains early in life is critical because early injury can have long-term effects and head injuries are an increasing problem that can affect people of all ages. Here’s a look at the statistics:

  • 75% of traumatic brain injuries that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injuries.
  • People aged 15 to 24 or over the age of 75 are at highest risk for concussion. And if you are 15 to 24 and drive a motor vehicle, ride a bicycle or play sports you are at greatest risk for a head injury.
  • Males are also more likely to suffer from a brain injury than females at every age.
  • Helmets should be replaced every 3 to 5 years unless an impact has occurred and then they should be replaced immediately.

Even if you’re not at high-risk for head injuries, don’t let your age or your sex stop you from taking full preventive measures when it comes to your head. Looney Toons star Wile E. Coyote may be able to bounce back from a few bonks of the head, but the effects of head injuries in real life can be extremely devastating.

Brain Safety During Physical Activities

Bicycle Riders: Here’s the sad and shocking truth: children are involved in 50,000 bicycle-related brain injuries per year and over 400 of them die as a result of their injuries. Because of these alarming statistics, Florida law requires bicycle riders under the age of 16 to wear a properly fitted and securely adjusted helmet. Adults are not legally required to wear protective headgear in Florida, however those who do choose to wear a helmet serve as brain healthy role models for the younger generation, and they protect their own heads at the same time. And, bicyclists who wear helmets reduce their incidence of brain injury by as much as 85%. So even though wearing your helmet might not get you on top of the best-dressed list, it is certainly worth doing.

Contact Sports: While we relate head injuries with “wheel sports” such as bicycling and rollerblading, each year approximately 300,000 cases of traumatic brain injury are due to contact sports and recreational activities. Of these 300,000, nearly 62,000 cases are attributed to high school sports. Parents should always teach their athletic child about the dangers of concussions and continually insist that wearing the correct headgear and safety equipment is critical to protecting those precious noggins.

Playgrounds: Believe it or not, brain injuries that result from falling off playground equipment account for 75% of children’s deaths. To avoid this danger, actively supervise children at all times on the playground. Make sure playground equipment is secure and properly maintained (no rusty or broken parts, loose screws). Ensure your child uses age-appropriate equipment. Check that the surface material underneath the playground equipment is safe, soft and well maintained. Wood chips, sand, pea gravel, shredded rubber are all safer options than grass, dirt, asphalt or concrete.

Everyday Brain Safety Tips

Brain-related injuries are still possible even when not participating in physical activities. Here are few more precautions you can take during everyday life to safeguard your brain.

  • Preventing childhood falls – If you have young children, there are number of products that can be used at home to prevent falls, such as guards on windows that are above ground level and gates at the top of stairways.
  • Staying safe on the street – Always wearing a seatbelt in the car (whether you’re driving or not), and always looking both ways before crossing a street.
  • Improving safety in your home – Safeguarding your home with simple improvements like better lighting, adding grab bars in the shower and removing tripping hazards such as rugs and misplaced furniture.
  • Maintaining strength and balance in older adults – As we age, the risk of falling becomes very real. If you are an older adult, exercise regularly and focus on exercises that increase leg strength and balance. It’s also a good idea to have any medications (prescribed and over-the-counter) reviewed by your doctor to identify side effects or interactions that can cause imbalance and falling, such as drowsiness or dizziness. And of course, follow the tips above for improving safety in your home.

While many of these strategies are simply common sense, they are often overlooked. So whether you’re a football player, a cyclist, or just a romantic who likes to take long walks in the park, we must all take proper measures in order to prevent head injuries.