Every year, approximately 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and one in 60 people are living with a permanent brain injury-related disability, reports the Brain Injury Association of America. 

Donald Thomas Schleicher, D.O., M.S., a neurosurgeon with Warren Clinic Neurosurgery in Tulsa, says that the qualifications for a traumatic brain injury are “any injury to the head that alters the way the brain functions, either chemically via neurotransmitters, physically via hemorrhage or stretching/tearing of nerve fibers, or cognitively.”

Traumatic brain injuries are classified as mild, moderate or severe.

“A unique class of head injury is concussion, which is a type of mild TBI,” says Schleicher. “The rating scale is based on the glascow coma score (GCS) which is a measure of the patient’s level of alertness following the injury. Thankfully, most traumatic brain injuries do not require the involvement of a neurosurgeon.”

Most TBIs occur in young adults up to age 24 and older adults over 70.

“The most common causes of TBI across all age categories is motor vehicle injuries, blunt force injuries, falls and assaults,” he says. “The elderly population is at a higher risk of injury from low level falls, given the overall fragility and other characteristics of the elderly population. And children are more susceptible to blunt force trauma – oftentimes through sports, and unfortunately through trauma, both accidental and non-accidental.”

Concussions: Knowing the Signs

For parents, a common concern during both daily activities and organized sports is the potential for concussion – and it’s important for all of us to recognize the symptoms. 

“The medical definition of concussion is a head injury that results in a mild TBI with symptoms that can include: slowed cognition, increased somnolence, headaches, nausea, vomiting, blurry vision and difficulty concentrating,” says Schleicher.

According to the Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI), an estimated 1.6-3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States each year. Between the years 2001 to 2005, children and youth ages 5-18 years old accounted for 2.4 million sports-related emergency department visits annually, of which 6% or roughly 135,000, involved a concussion. 

BIRI also reports that among children and youth ages 5-18 years old, the five leading sports or recreational activities which account for concussions include: bicycling, football, basketball, playground activities and soccer. In addition, high school athletes who sustain a concussion are three times more likely to sustain a second one. 

Along with knowing the symptoms of a head injury, Schleicher offers these recommendations.

“A word of caution – any significant injury to the head can cause lasting effects on your cognition, emotional lability, focus and ability to concentrate,” he says. “The NFL, NHL and other major league sports teams are recognizing the devastating effects of chronic and repetitive head injury. Please ensure that yourself and your children take the proper safety precautions while participating in any activities that can lead to a head injury … and are properly equipped with current and undamaged protective equipment. Please always wear your seatbelt, and always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle.” 

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