There is an epidemic of brain injuries annually that are caused by head trauma from preventable accidents. Each year 1.5 to 2 million Americans have traumatic brain injuries. Of this number, 50,000 die, and 90,000 experience long-term disability. Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in people youger than 45. The highest risk occurs between ages 15 and 25, with the rates for males 2 to 3 times the rates for females. Currently at least 5.3 million Americans - a little more than % of the US population - are living with disabililties resulting from brain injury.

The most effective treatment for brain injury is prevention. Almost half of all brain injuries result from motor vehicle accidents, and declines in death rates have paralleled th euse of seat belts and motorcycle helmets. Young people, however, remain at high risk. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cuse of death for 15- to 20-year-olds (more than 70% of whom sustain head trauma). According to the Brain JInjury Association of America, seat belts are 57% effective in reducing brain injuries from car accidents. Air bags increase protection further but are not a substitute for seat belts. Because infants and children under 12 can be injured by air bags, it is important to seat them in the rear seat.

More than 80% of all motorcycle crashes result in injury or death to the rider. Nevertheless, risk can be reduced with helmets, which are 67% effective in preventing brain injuries from motorcycle accidents. In the 15- to 20-year-old age group, more than half of motorcycle riders who are fatally injured are not wearing helmets.

Public health campaigns about the importance of bicycle helmets successfully raised the percentage of bicycle riders who regularly wear helmets from 18% in 1991 to 50% by the end of the decade. Of the 813 bicyclists killed in crashes in 1997, 97% were not wearing helmets. Helmet use is the single most effective protection against bran injury for bicyclists, and studies show that children are more likely to wear helmets when their parents or friends also use them. Helmets must be orn properly to provide protection: they should be placed directly over the forehead, and chin straps should be tichtened so that only two fingers fit underneath. The same risk present for bicyclists also applies to adults and children who use in-line skates and scooters. Users should wear helmets, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards.

Helments reduce the risk of brain injury in multiple recreational sports, from football and horseback riding to skiing and snowboarding. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in 1997 there were 17,500 head injuries, including 2,600 head injuries to children, as well as 11 deaths, could be prevented or minimized each year with universal use of helmets by skiers and snowboarders.

Some basic pedestrain and playground safety measures can further decrease the risk of brain injury for children. Fifty thousand children each year are struck by vehicles while walking or playing near home. Teach children to look left, right, then left again before crossing roads and to watch for turning cars. Children walking after dark should wear reflective clothing and should never wear headphones when crossing the street.

Source:Ability Magazine, 2004

Related Topic: Only Dumb Parents Don't Wear Helmets
Resource: Brain Injury Association of America's Family Helpline, 800.444.6443 or 

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