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By Kathy Pride,
Health Contributor


CBN.com ? In an instant, a split second, life can change. Each year 1.4 million people experience traumatic brain injury (TBI). March is brain injury awareness month. At the precise moment when the injury occurred, lives are permanently altered.

TBI has been catapulted into the public eye through Bob Woodruff (ABC Nightly News co-anchor injured in Iraq) and his personal experience and miraculous recovery from TBI. Through his story, the public has been exposed to the extreme and dramatic nature of TBI, but there are other causes and degrees of severity of TBI, some of which go undetected and untreated.

TBI is not limited to extreme traumatic events. It is defined as “a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain.” Not all blows or jolts result in TBI, and injuries range from mild to severe. In mild injuries, a brief change in mental status or consciousness results, while in severe cases an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia follows. It can also result in short- or long-term problems with independent function.

Motor vehicle accidents account for 20 percent of TBI. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the two age groups at highest risk for TBI are under 4, and 15 to 19 year olds.

Three-year-old Olivia was buckled into her car seat and on her way to her sister's ballet rehearsal when her life instantly changed. As she was sitting behind her mother, a large SUV struck their minivan from behind. Both Olivia and her mother were unconscious and transported to a nearby hospital. Olivia remained in a coma and in the pediatric intensive care unit for a week. Her discharge to a rehabilitation hospital included physical, occupational, speech, and recreational therapy. Her brain injury also left her with cognitive difficulties that included poor recall, short-term memory problems, and low frustration thresholds.

Falls account for 28 percent of TBI, mostly affecting the older population. Other events accounting for TBI are being struck by or against an object (19 percent) and assaults, which account for 11 percent of TBI.

In addition to young children and teens, there are other groups who are at high risk for TBI and include males, who are about 1.5 times as likely to sustain a TBI as females; military personnel; and African-Americans, who, according the CDC, have the highest death rate from TBI.

The numbers of people who are affected by TBI are staggering. Of the 1.4 million people who suffer from TBI in the United States each year, 1.1 million are treated and released from emergency departments, a quarter of a million are hospitalized, and 50,000 die.

Costs are both direct (medical costs) and indirect (loss of productivity). According to work compiled in 2006 and reported in the book The Incidence and Economic Burden of Injuries in the United States, these costs exceeded $60 million.

The CDC estimates that there are more than 5.3 million Americans who currently have a long-term or lifelong need for help with activities of daily living resulting from TBI.

There are frequently unmet needs that those suffering from TBI have. These needs include:

Improving memory and problem solving
Managing stress and emotional needs
Anger control
Improving job skills
TBI can also cause a wide range of functional changes that affect thinking, language, learning, emotions, behavior, and/or sensation. Epilepsy can also be caused, and puts the patient at increased risk for other brain conditions as well.

Awareness is the first key to unlocking the door of understanding and support.

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