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Prevent Brain Injury

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Prevent Brain Injury

Sports concussions have raised awareness of brain injuries. Simple safety tips like making sure your bike helmet fits properly can protect your brain.

The recent publicity surrounding hockey hero Sidney Crosby has elevated what was once dismissed as merely a concussion, to the much more relevant diagnosis of brain injury. In addition, open discussion around sports players, especially those who have committed suicide, has increased awareness about brain safety.

Brain injuries can occur traumatically; for example, in sports, and in traffic, or work accidents. They can also occur from strokes, tumours, and even cancer. However the injury occurs, it is almost always invisible and frequently devastating.

In 2005 David McGuire became a statistic—like more than 166,000 other people in Canada each year, he suffered a brain injury.

Following a stroke, McGuire was told he would never walk again, but he refused to accept that outcome. Although he suffers from significant memory loss and a degree of aphasia (a language disorder resulting from his injury), within a year he had run a marathon.

Then with the support of BrainTrust Canada, McGuire decided to run across Canada. He began Run to Remember on April 1, 2011, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, arriving in Victoria, BC, mid-December the same year. The name of the run has special significance given McGuire’s memory loss.

Don’t—give your head a shake

Perhaps the most terrible thing about brain injuries is that almost 80 percent are preventable. Many of us routinely take preventive measures without even realizing it. We eat well and exercise to avoid disease, and we buckle up whenever we travel in an automobile and wear a helmet when riding our bikes or when playing sports, but many people still don’t protect themselves enough.

Improvements in equipment and automobiles are helping to prevent head injuries. Increased stability of vehicles, better and more effective air bags, as well as more air bags in modern automobiles are all effective. Helmets are also being manufactured to safer standards.

One size doesn’t fit all

When the Kamloops Brain Injury Association took part in the annual Bike Rodeo in the city last year, Kristy Buchner, the education and prevention coordinator, checked the fit of almost 150 bike helmets of kids and their parents. Over 60 percent didn’t fit—more than 90 people were at risk of brain injury.

“Parents often hand helmets down through siblings or other family members and sometimes they hope the child will grow into the helmet,” explains Buchner. “This often leads to children wearing helmets that are too large for them.”

In addition, parents sometimes mistakenly believe that any helmet is a good helmet. “Sadly, this just isn’t the case,” Buchner laments. “Different activities tend toward different types of accidents, so it is important to wear the correct helmet. If you are riding a bike, wear a bike helmet; if you are skiing, only a ski helmet offers the best protection.”

The same goes for all sports. While any helmet is better than nothing at all, a specialized helmet will help prevent the most injuries. “We never see hockey players wearing a bike helmet, and there’s a very good reason for that,” insists Buchner. “Bike helmets often have peaks to protect the face in the case of a face plant over the handlebars; that peak could be dangerous in hockey.” (See the 2-4-1 rule for fitting bicycle helmets on page 49.)

Protection from the inside out

While preventing brain injuries by maintaining safety practices is a good strategy, so is looking after our brains by ensuring a healthy diet and optimal nutrition.

Omega-3 and -6
Nutritional consultant Norma Haynes recommends omega-3 and -6 for everyone but especially for those with a brain injury. Dr. Alan Logan, author of Your Brain on Nature (Wiley, 2012), concurs. EPA and DHA limit post-traumatic brain injury and can increase the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNE). (BDNE plays a role in synaptic transmission and learning ability.)

Bacopa
Researchers from the University of Wollongong in Australia have also identified Bacopa as a potential support for memory retention and concentration.

Curcumin
Curcumin (from turmeric) is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that stimulates nerve growth in the brain.

A brain injury is forever

So while we can all increase the health of our brains with a nutritious diet and good quality supplements, a brain injury is still forever. Survivors like Crosby and McGuire will face challenges for the rest of their lives.

To learn more about brain injury and what you can do to protect your brain, go to brainstreams.ca where you’ll also see what McGuire is up to now. “One benefit of memory loss,” McGuire told alive, “is that I forget what I did yesterday, so every day is a fresh sheet!”

Did you know?

  • The highest rate of traumatic brain injury is in young men aged 15 to 24.
  • Brain injury occurs at a rate 100 times that of spinal injury.
  • New data demonstrates an underestimation of the incidence of concussion resulting in early onset of dementia and underestimation of gender differences predisposing female athletes to a greater rate of injury than males.

Helmet replacement

  • Replace your helmet every five years; the materials it’s made of weaken over time.
  • Always replace your helmet after a crash. It may not have visible damage, but the inner liner could be damaged.
  • Always replace a dented or cracked helmet.

We haven’t got your number

Most of the statistics surrounding brain injury are from the United States, because no reliable estimates have been collected in Canada. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keep data relating to trauma-based injury only. Brain injury from strokes, aneurysms, tumours, and other events is not recorded but is estimated to double the incidence rates.

Keep your lid on

Choose a helmet that’s made for your sport or activity. Helmets are specially designed to minimize injuries for a particular sport.

Follow the 2-4-1 rule to ensure your bicycle helmet fits properly

2-4-1
Follow the 2-4-1 rule to ensure your bicycle helmet fits properly..

Place241
fingers above the eyebrows to the bottom of the helmetfingers to make a V shape around the bottom of the earsfinger under the strap beneath the chin
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