Given that more than 80 percent of traumatic brain injuries in service members occur outside of a combat environment, the key to preventing them from happening in the first place lies in taking all necessary safety precautions during many different routine, day-to-day activities.
Common causes of concussions in service members are athletic events, training activities and falls or accidents, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.
“The majority of our service members are sustaining concussions due to motor vehicle crashes and falls – not too dissimilar to the general population,” Lt. Cmdr. Cathleen Davies, acting director of education at the center, recently told Health.mil.
“We have a lot of younger people who are more into risk-taking,” she said.
What would be her advice to them? “Wear your protective equipment. Wear your helmet … These are things that are largely preventable,” said Davies, a member of the U.S. Public Health Command.
Avoiding alcohol before getting behind the wheel and always wearing a seat belt while driving is paramount, she added.
The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on its “Heads Up” campaign aimed at preventing traumatic brain injuries.
“There’s a reason why we partner with them,” said Davies – namely to spread the message that traumatic brain injury is preventable if certain precautions are taken.
Later this month, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, based in Silver Spring, Md., will launch its own prevention campaign called, “A Head for the Future,” via an online platform connected to the center’s existing home page.
The primary goal is “to raise awareness” about things people can do to help prevent traumatic brain injuries, she added. The campaign’s web page will also serve as a one-stop-shop for the latest information.
At the same time, the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, in conjunction with the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, and Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, has established an online resource guide for Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs traumatic brain injury (TBI) case managers and care coordinators who work with service members, veterans and their families. The website, called TTWRL, is devoted to TBI-related information and resources.
Case workers can use the database to find out what services are available anywhere, said Davies, for instance locating a local speech pathologist to help a service member who has suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Some 266,810 service members sustained traumatic brain injuries between 2000 and 2012, according to a press release from the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Approximately 82 percent of those injuries were mild TBIs, otherwise known as concussions, from which recovery is usually complete within seven to 10 days.
Symptoms of mild traumatic brain injuries include headache; fatigue; sleep disturbances; irritability; sensitivity to noise or light; problems with balance; decreased concentration; memory problems; nausea; depression; anxiety and emotional mood swings.
In terms of treating traumatic brain injuries, Davies cited the new clinical recommendations on making a progressive return to activity following a traumatic brain injury recently released by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.
These include eight different sets of materials, half geared toward primary care providers, half for rehabilitation managers.
“What this package does is take a look at ‘what does rest mean?’” she said. “I may go home, do some laundry, watch some TV … rest is very subjective. What we do in these recommendations is we outline what rest means.”
Service members who have suffered traumatic brain injuries often go home for a period of rest and start playing video games – not the best way to recover, even if it seems like a fun and relaxing activity.
“You shouldn’t be playing video games,” said Davies, since that actually makes TBI symptoms worse.
This is where the six stages for incorporating activities back in to daily life come in.
“Check your symptoms. Make sure your symptoms aren’t getting worse,” said Davies.
“Most people recover quickly, within a few days or weeks,” she said. “It’s the 10 to 15 percent of people [with mild TBI] who need more time; the primary care provider is going to refer them … to rehab.”
In a nutshell, said Davies, prevention, recognition and recovery are all important when it comes to dealing with traumatic brain injury.
“The big issue is that most people don’t realize what a concussion is,” she said, adding that you should have yourself checked out if “you feel dizzy” or have other common signs and symptoms of concussion or mild traumatic brain injury.
“The whole premise of early detection [is that it] leads to early treatment, which means you’re going to get better faster,” said Davies.
“The best thing to do is to give your body some rest and some time to recover,” she added.
“The vast majority of traumatic brain injuries – more than 80 percent – are happening outside of combat. And they’re mild. And there are things that we can do to be getting people on the road to recovery.”
You may want to consider these “10 Reasons to Get that Bump to Your Head Checked Out” if you think you have may have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury.