Ray Smith
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Protecting Your Most Vital Organ—Your Brain

Your brain controls and coordinates your actions and reactions, it allows you to think, feel, remember, and be you. Every year, nearly three million Americans suffer from a brain injury. While the majority are treated and released from the emergency department, an estimated 282,000 require hospitalization, and 50,000 die (that’s 153 people a day).

Often the result of falls, car accidents, violence, and sports injuries, brain injuries can change the course of your life in a matter of seconds. Even mild injuries can damage the delicate tissue of the brain. Unlike bones or muscle tissue, neurons in the brain do not mend themselves, meaning certain areas of the brain may be permanently damaged. As a result,  functions that were controlled by those areas may be disrupted or completely lost forever.

While no one plans for a brain injury, there are steps you can take to prevent one. Follow these tips to prevent some of the most common brain injuries.

Older Adults

Older adults are more likely to be hospitalized and die from brain injuries than all other age groups.  Rarely, brain injuries are missed because the symptoms are so like those found with other medical conditions that are common among older adults, such as dementia. In addition, medications, especially blood thinners or aspirin, increase your risk of a brain bleed after an injury making it all the more important to avoid falls or injuries altogether. 

Review your medication: Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. Be sure to include prescription medicines, over-the counter medicines, herbal supplements, and vitamins in the review.

Get your eyes examined: Have your eyes checked at least once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses if needed.

Build your balance: Do regular exercise to improve your strength and balance. Look online for strength and balance videos or, if you belong to a gym, ask a trainer for help.  

Make your home safe: Remove any tripping hazards, including area rugs, cords running across open spaces, pet toys or beds, and clutter, clothes, or shoes, especially around your bed. And because most falls in the home occur in the bathrooms, consider installing grab bars inside and next to the tub or shower and next to the toilet. In addition, use slip-resistant flooring and mats and improve lighting if needed.

Children

Be window-wise: Install window guards to keep children from falling out of open windows. Make a habit of opening windows from the top down.

Make stairs off-limits: Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around.

Play safely: When visiting parks and play structures, make sure the surface material is soft, such as mulch, shredded rubber, or sand.

Sit securely: Keep babies and young children strapped in when using high chairs, infant carriers, swings, and strollers. If using a carrier, place it on the floor, not on top of a table or other furniture.

Keep a lid on it: Insist your child wears a helmet when riding a bike, skateboarding, snowboarding, skating, skiing, or doing other activities with a high risk of falling. No helmet, no fun.

Everyone

Buckle up: Car accidents are one of the leading causes of brain injury. Always buckle up when driving and insist all passengers do the same.

Drive safe and sober: Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or ride with someone you know or suspect is under the influence.

Your brain makes it possible to live, think, speak, move, and enjoy the world. Making small efforts to protect can make a world of difference in the quality of your life and that of loved ones.

 

Trey Dobson, MD, is the chief medical officer and a board-certified emergency physician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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