By the time the clock strikes midnight tonight, 144 new brain injuries will be sustained by individuals in Ontario. Each year, 150,000 Canadians suffer an Acquired Brain Injury. IN Ontario 795 children out of 100,000 will suffer a brain injury this year. It is anticipated that a brain injury will occur in Canada every 3.5 minutes. These numbers are added to the numbers from the day before, the month before and the year before. Currently, there are close to 500,000 people in Ontario who are identified as having an acquired brain injury. The impact and devastation to families and individuals affected by brain injury is staggering.
An injury to the brain is likely to result in death or permanent disability. Brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide.
An acquired brain injury (ABI) is damage to the brain which occurs after birth due to a traumatic event, such as a blow to the head, or a non-traumatic event, such as a medical event (stroke, etc). It is not due to a congenital disorder or a progressively degenerative disorder. As the brain is a complex and delicate organ. damage to the brain can produce long term difficulties.
- Brain injuries occur 10 times more often than spinal cord injuries.
- Brain injuries are the leading cause of death and disability for Canadians under the age of 35; with the highest rate of injury occurs between the ages of 15 – 24 years.
- More than 800 Ontarians die each year due to brain injuries.
- More than 12,000 people in Ontario sustain disabling brain injuries each year.
- Males are more likely than females to incur a traumatic brain injury and.
- Motor vehicle collisions (45%)
- Falls (10%)
- Bicycle incidents (10%)
- Workplace Injuries (10%)
- Sports, Assaults, other traumatic causes (10%)
- Medical conditions or diseases (10%), (e.g. aneurysms, tumours, meningitis, etc.)
- Asphyxia, poisoning, other toxins (5%), (e.g. carbon monoxide etc.)
Effects of Brain Injury
As the brain is the control centre for everything we do, think and feel, brain injuries can result in many kinds of physical, cognitive and behavioral / emotional impairments, and interfere with the brain’s ability to perform any of its tasks. These impairments may be permanent or temporary. While each brain injury is a unique event with a unique set of effects, there are some common difficulties arising from brain injuries:
- movement problems
- coordination and balance problems
- full or partial paralysis
- chronic pain
- sleep problems
- impairment of sense of smell and/or taste
- vision or hearing difficulties
- impaired speech
- word-finding problems
- difficulty understanding oral, written or non-verbal language
- difficulty expressing emotions appropriately
- mood swings
- low frustration
- anger management
- slowed information processing
- memory loss
- memory-processing problems
- problems with concentration and attention
- impaired judgment
- problem-solving difficulties
- social behavioural problems
Impact Upon Families & Relationships
Although each individual is unique, the sequels resulting from a brain injury often have similarities. Some of the sequels can include difficulty with memory loss, impaired reasoning skills, and tendency toward “one track thinking.”
Imagine not remembering names and faces of lifelong friends or turning on a burner with a pot and not remembering having done so. Many persons with brain injuries will also have physical disabilities such as paralysis of the limbs or loss of vision and/or hearing. Some people experience varying degrees of speech impairment. Others may be able to speak, but due to cognitive impairments, have difficulty organizing their thoughts into meaningful speech. Some people lose their sense of smell, suffer from headaches or have to cope with having seizures. It is quite difficult to rely on others to plan your day.
Emotional effects vary as well as the person with a brain injury will see changes in emotional control. This may be related to the brain injury or to the frustrations that the person feels as he tries to adapt to his new self.
Realization of the effects of the injury combined with the increased dependence on others and/or a loss of control over one’s life may be cause for depression.
The social consequences of a brain injury can be devastating. Many people report losing friends and having difficulty cultivating and maintaining new friendships. These difficulties may result from the person experiencing problems with communication. Imagine the frustration of having difficulty remembering ideas and communicating them coherently and logically during a conversation. Loudness of the speech and knowing when it is appropriate to speak are examples of social skills that we all take for granted. In addition, subtle social skills may have been lost.
It is important to note the strength and character of these people. Once again all persons are unique, with varying injuries, personalities and supports available. Although there may be tremendous amount of loss to cope with, many people with brain injuries remain determined, sensitive and positive to their approach to life.
Although the effects of brain injury may make it necessary for the injured person to have assistance for up to 24 hours in a day, families often remain or become the primary caregiver and support person. Many families are left to cope on their own, with little understanding of the effects of the injury and the demands of living with an injured family member. Families need support of others who understand the stress within these family systems.
Preventing Brain Injury
Brain injuries result from falls, blows to the head, physical violence, car crashes and sports. It is imperative that individuals engaging in outdoor activities wear the proper protective gear and become educated in the do’s and don’ts of the sport of the their choice. Safety guidelines are not meant to damper your fun, rather they are in place to ensure you have an enjoyable experience. Over 60 children in Canada die as a result of bicycle related injuries — a large number of them with brain injury.
- Wearing a bike helmet can reduce the risk of brain injury by 85%.
- The use of seat belts and air bags can do much to reduce the incidence of brain injury.
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs can be very beneficial, particularly when driving.
- A healthy lifestyle can prevent some forms of brain injury which result from illness or disease. impaired judgment.
- Awareness of the consequences of brain injury can be a powerful prevention tool.
For Additional Support
Families and individuals do not have to walk this road alone. There are brain injury associations and support groups throughout North America. To find a brain injury association near you, call the Brain Injury Association of Durham Region at 905-723-2732 or 1-866-354-4464 and in the United States call the Family Helpline with the Brain injury Association of America at 1-800-444-6443.