Health region reminds people to keep brain safe

Jodi Schellenberg
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The brain is the most important organ you have, so keep it safe.

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With June being Brain Injury Awareness Month, the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region spoke about the importance of keeping your brain safe.

“The society we live in where we have access to transportation such as cars, trucks, motorcycles, certainly collisions take place where not only the brain can be impacted but certainly the overall body as well, even resulting in fatalities,” said Murray Wotherspoon, education and prevention co-ordinator in the area of brain injury prevention. “The challenge around a brain injury is the brain doesn’t heal itself like many other parts of the body.”

He explained that preventing the injury from happening is one of the primary ways to maintain long-term brain health.

In the past there wasn’t a lot of awareness about traumatic brain injuries and concussions while playing sports.

“A concussion could be described as perhaps a shake-up of the brain,” Wotherspoon said. “It can be caused by a blow to the head or body and even though you don’t see a large hole in the brain or a bump, the chemistry of the brain has been dramatically altered.

“In respect to that, if an individual goes back into playing the particular sport, whether it be soccer or football … going back in after having an initial concussion could result in a fatality,” he added. “The body could not sustain a second impact and as a result the chemistry and messaging capacity of the brain falls short of maintaining the messaging to the organs and things that maintain your overall wellbeing. That is one of the reasons we certainly like people to be more aware of maintaining proper care of their brain.”

In recent years, studies have been done on the brains of former NHL and NFL players to see what the impacts of concussions could be.

“They have discovered damage that is directly attributed to the series of impacts that took place over their playing of the sport,” Wotherspoon said. “Again, it main not be a serious impact that puts a player right out of the game but it has been shown by some recent studies that a series of less threatening or lesser impact blows to the head but multiplied many times creates damage to the brain as well.”

Wotherspoon would like to see parents encouraging all of their family members to wear helmets since brain injuries are quite serious. They should be wearing helmets while riding bikes and playing sports such as hockey and football.

“Even in some sports, there could be more awareness to wearing a helmet,” he said. “I would personally advocate some sports, even soccer, start to recognize the seriousness of one player running into another and perhaps there is a strong argument to be made to the actual hitting of the ball creates more injury to a young player’s brain then perhaps we have come to recognize.”

Wotherspoon and other education and prevention co-ordinators do presentations about brain health and preventing injuries to all age groups.

“The primary concept for maintaining health for your brain is really thinking ahead and minimizing the risk situations that you take on,” he said.

They don’t just talk about wearing helmets, but other areas where there are risk, such as driving a vehicle.

“Of course we talk about the texting, driving without impairment, paying attention to the rules of the road and anticipating risk situations because we know that many of the brain injuries are attributed to the impact and crashing of one vehicle into another vehicle,” Wotherspoon said. “That is where a great number of brain injuries come about.”

They also discuss preventing falls in the winter by wearing proper footwear, paying attention to slippery areas and looking both ways before crossing the street.

“I guess a general statement I would make is we have to revisit every day the ways that we can prevent an injury to ourselves and overall that maintains the health of the brain,” he said.

Brain injuries can also be caused by extreme weather, such as too much heat causing heat stroke or too much cold causing hypothermia, as well as drowning.

Alcohol and drugs also have an impact on the brain, causing some damage that cannot be repaired.

“With abstinence the brain can regain better health, but that is not always saying they are going to regain full health, just that certain brain cells will die as a result of certain types of drug use as well as alcohol,” Wotherspoon said.

It is the education co-ordinators goal to make young age groups aware of how important the brain is and how to take care of it.

“There is a great focus on many of the programs we offer on making children from kindergarten age up to even Grade 12 the awareness of paying attention to their brain,” he said.

Since keeping children safe is important, there are always new ways to help prevent accidents.

“I guess another risk area that has come about is that there has been a lot of changes in response to playground equipment in Canada in recent years,” Wotherspoon said. “There are various types of playground equipment that have been totally revamped.”

“In respect to the teenage group where they are moving into the driving age, there is greater emphasis with alcohol and drug use and the risks of driving,” he added. “Also an awareness of the teenage age bracket, it is a time where there is a disregard to their overall safety … It seems to be an attractive and daring process of that age group to take risks where they don’t have to take risks.”

Wotherspoon would like to help young athletes in the city. He is working on informing parents about the risks of brain injuries and how to avoid them.

A couple of tips far playing soccer are to learn to head the ball correctly and young players should not be allowed to head.

He would like to let people know that an ounce of prevention is worth it in the end.

“It is just trying to remind people that a severe injury an come about in just a fraction of a second where a little forethought and prevention could have made a big difference for keeping everybody safe.”

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury that cannot be seen on X-rays, CT scans or MRIs, which affect the way a person may think or remember things.

Any blow to the head, neck or face, as well as a blow to the body which causes a jarring of he head may cause a concussion.

Some signs and symptoms of a concussion are:

• appearing dazed of stunned

• general confusion

• slow to answer or follow directions

• lapses in memory such as not recalling leading up event or date

• behaviour or personality changes

• vomiting

• slurred speech

• headache

• dizziness

• sleepiness

• blurry vision or loss of vision

• nausea

The signs and symptoms of a concussion can last seven to 10 days.

If you suspect someone has a concussion, do not leave him or her alone and make sure he or she sees a health care professional as soon as possible.

Make sure the child’s parents are informed and give them some information about concussions. If an athlete, the person should not be allowed to return to play until a health are professional gives permission.

According to health care professionals, the most important treatment for a concussion is rest. The person should not exercise, attend school or work or do activities that could make them worse, such as riding a bike, playing video games or working on a computer.

Organizations: NHL, NFL

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Bruce Zslnka
    June 03, 2014 - 15:43

    All this information is fine and good, but if the people that need to know of these things are not even aware of the issues, then you are just preaching to the choir. It seems likely to me that most people are too busy living their lives to give it any attention. Perhaps if the mainstream media was used o draw more awareness and therefore knowledge of this need for prevention, less people would suffer unnessessarily. I guess for the people that care, it is enough but some people don't care... Maybe those are the root cause or maybe something is fundamentally wrong with this capatalism where there isn't money to be made if there are not enough accidents and injuries to treat??