Heads Up Alaska: The More You Know
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month
ANCHORAGE- March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. It’s a month dedicated to the causes and consequences of brain injury and the need for better prevention, research and advocacy on behalf of those who suffer an injury.
The Alaska Brain Injury Network defines a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as damage to the living brain tissue by an external mechanical force or motion. It is usually characterized by a period of altered consciousness (amnesia or coma) that can be very brief (minutes) or very long (months/indefinitely).
“[The brain is] a very unforgiving organ, from the standpoint if it's deprived of oxygen or there is pressure on it, it has a tendency to not want to work again fairly rapidly,” said Dr. Tim Cohen with Alaska Regional Hospital.
Cohen, along with Dr. Regina Chennault, treats many people with TBI’s almost every day at the hospital. Chennault says not everyone with a TBI leaves the hospital at the same level of function they did when they came in.
“Sometimes they have to learn to walk again or learn to talk or learn to write, so it’s not that they usually don’t go home the way they were before they came in,” Chennault said.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports 1.7 million people suffer a TBI every year in the United States. Traumatic brain injuries are one of the top contributing factors to injury-related deaths in the country. According to the CDC, the most common cause of TBI’s are from falls, motor vehicle or ATV accidents, being struck in the head by an object, head assaults, using guns and war zone explosions.
Chennault said she’s not surprised by one of the causes because of its relevancy in Alaska. “Assaults, that’s not a big surprise to me because I do know we have a high rate of domestic violence and assault across the state of Alaska,” she said.
Along with common causes, there are common symptoms. Doctor Scott Simms with Alaska Regional Hospital described some: “if they have a loss of consciousness, if they have any amnesia for the event, if they have any abnormal neurological symptoms… bad headache, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting.”
Simms also added people can still be at risk even if they don’t have any symptoms. “A person who has no symptoms but has high risk factors (blood thinners, old person, alcoholic, a very young baby... less than two years of age) that has a significant fall should probably be evaluated without any of those other symptoms,” he said.
When it comes to treatment, Cohen said most TBI’s require little to no treatment. He said taking medication, rest and close monitoring more than likely will do the trick. However, there are situations where surgery is required. “They can be intact and complaining of a headache with a skull fracture and they have a large hemorrhage, and I know if I don't take that hemorrhage out... that could potentially lead to their death,” he said.