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Brain injury: How it can affect everyday life — and how to prevent it.

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Written by Health columnist Jennifer Hutchings.

Going to the ocean front in my wheelchair.

Philosopher René Descartes is well known for his phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” He introduced the fundamental explanation for how we currently understand the function of the brain. In other words, our brain connects us to the world we live in. It does this by receiving sensory data involving memory centers, emotion and language as we continuously interpret and respond to smells, sounds, tastes, feelings and what we see around us in our environment.

All of that can change, though, when the brain is injured.

The CDC defines a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a disruption in the normal function of the brain. It can be caused by a bump, blow, jolt to the head, or a penetrating injury. A TBI can range from a mild concussion to a severe head injury and may result in long-term physical, behavioral, emotional and cognitive changes that can last a lifetime.

These changes can impact an individual’s ability to function normally in their everyday life. Treatment will vary depending on someone’s specific medical needs. Many people who have a significant brain injury will require rehabilitation and may need to relearn basic life skills, such as walking, talking, bathing and how to prepare food. Therapy usually starts in the hospital and will continue at an inpatient rehabilitation unit, residential treatment facilities or outpatient services with the goal of promoting independence.

Because a traumatic brain injury is so serious, it’s important to take steps to prevent one. Simple things you can do every day include buckling up when riding in a car, wearing a helmet when skiing and snowboarding, skateboarding, or when riding a bike, motorcycle, scooter and when using an all-terrain vehicle.

Also wear a helmet when playing a contact sport such as football, ice hockey or boxing. For older adults, talk to your doctor about evaluating your risk of falls. Also talk to them about reviewing your medications for the risk of increasing falls, especially if they make you dizzy. Have your eyes checked routinely and as recommended by your eye doctor.

People who have sustained a TBI may have long term changes and impairments. There are several ways to prevent a TBI with the most common causes being falls and motor vehicle accidents.

Other good resources to find information and facts are the CDC website, Brainline, a national association for brain injuries, and the Brain Injury Association of America.

If you suspect you or a loved one has sustained a brain injury, see a doctor immediately.

Jen Hutchings, CRRN, MSN, St. Luke’s Neuro Program Coordinator

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