Employee & Community Health

No age limit for brain injuries

3/21/2019 by Dr. Derek Stitt

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The skull is a sturdy shell protecting the delicate brain inside from harm. But almost from the time we're born, we put that protective shell through its paces. We fall while learning to walk, tumble from trees and off bicycles, collide with each other during games and sports, bonk our heads on low doorways, get in vehicle accidents, slip in the tub, trip on rugs. 

Brain injuries range in severity from a mild concussion to death, and fall under the umbrella of traumatic brain injury (TBI). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data showed that in 2013, TBI resulted in 2.8 million emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. The main causes for TBI were: 

  • Falls, primarily among children (age 0-14) and adults (age 65 and older)
  • Being struck by or against an object
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Self-harm

While the skull protects the brain, it also floats in fluid, which helps absorb shocks. But any form of blow can rattle the brain inside the skull, causing bruising and even tears that lead to bleeding and swelling. Sometimes the TBI is so severe the individual loses consciousness and may die. 

Any part of the brain can be injured, and where that injury occurs can affect cognition, personality, motor control, coordination, ability to plan movements, sensation, critical thinking, decision making and inhibitions. Injuries toward the front of the brain can affect critical thinking, toward the back, vision may be impaired. 

TBIs of all kinds should be taken seriously, especially if symptoms progress from mild to moderate to severe. If you or a loved one is having trouble with memory or orientation with dates and locations, seek urgent care. There also can be delayed complications, so be sure that you're not alone after suffering an injury or that someone checks on you regularly. 

Brain injury can happen throughout our lives, but so does prevention: 

  • Use car seats for infants and children; adults should fasten seat belts
  • Install "baby gates" at the top of stairs and guards on windows
  • Wear well-fitting helmets for sports — from skateboarding to horseback riding
  • Drink alcohol responsibly and abstain when driving motorized vehicles, including boats, ATVs and snowmobiles
  • Remove clutter and loose rugs, install handrails on both sides of staircases, improve lighting
  • Remain physically active
  • Improve lower body strength, balance

No matter our age, all it takes is one TBI to affect our thinking and functioning. So if you suspect you've experienced a head injury, go to the ED, urgent care or see your care team. 

Dr. Derek Stitt is a physician specializing in neurology as part of Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Integrated Community Specialties Program. He is a member of the Division of Education in the Department of Neurology and a general neurologist with primary interests in clinical neurology education and the overlap between neurology and systemic disease.