No one ever thinks that they will have a brain injury. Yet have you ever had a concussion from being tackled while playing sports? Have you ever suffered a head injury from a car accident or bicycle fall? Do you know someone who has had a stroke or aneurysm?
People who have had brain injuries are around us every day, and we might never know it. Often referred to as a “hidden injury” because its effects are not typically physical, brain injury or traumatic brain injury affects more than 2.5 million people every year in the U.S. alone.
Memory loss, difficulty thinking, mood swings – these are common side effects of a brain injury, and can be both short-term or long-term, depending on the extent of the injury. For sufferers of brain injury, these effects can make life a new challenge every day.
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. But what does this mean to you? We hope it means a greater awareness of how common brain injuries actually are, and that you will take simple steps to reduce your risk of brain injury.
Always wear a helmet during contact sports or when riding a bike, even if you are “only going down the street.” Always wear your seat belt, and make sure your children are appropriately seated in the right car or booster seat. To reduce your risk of stroke or aneurysm, quit smoking, manage high blood pressure, control diabetes, eat a healthy diet and exercise. And make sure to visit your doctor regularly.
If you or someone you love has ever suffered a brain injury, there are local resources that can help. As a rehabilitation health system, Walton offers or can refer patients to key resources in the area. Walton’s continuum of care includes inpatient rehabilitation for brain injury as well as outpatient care.
A new program is cognitive rehabilitation, which works with brain injury survivors to help them relearn cognitive skills through a combination of neuropsychological assessments, behavior modification and family training, adjustment to medical illness counseling and speech therapy.
NeuroRestorative Georgia provides transitional living after acute care. Here, brain injury survivors spend several weeks living in a supported environment to relearn activities of daily living – from taking care of a home to shopping, banking and more.
The Augusta Brain Injury Support Group, which meets every second Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m., is another local resource. Attended by both family members and survivors, the group offers education about living with brain injury, as well as providing a social outlet.
Walton Options for Independent Living is a not-for-profit organization that partners with Walton Rehabilitation Health System, but is governed by its own board. WOIL provides classes and resources to help survivors of brain injury prepare to reenter the workforce, live independently, and obtain assistive technology or personal assistance as needed.
Walton Rehabilitation Health System and NeuroRestorative Georgia are also sponsoring a 5K Brain Injury Awareness Walk at the Columbia County Amphitheather in Evans on March 24 beginning at 9:30 a.m. Registration costs $10 for brain injury survivors and $15 for supporters, all benefiting the Augusta Brain Injury Support Group. We hope you will come out to support this wonderful event.
Brain injuries are more common than you may think, and we encourage you to educate yourself. If you are a survivor of brain injury, don’t become isolated; instead, reach out to local programs that can help.
And we encourage everyone to become an advocate for ways to reduce your risk for this preventable injury.
(Dr. Pamela Salazar is medical director and Dr. Jeremy Hertza is chair of Traumatic Brain Injury Services at Walton Rehabilitation Health System.)