Story by A1C Javier Alvarez on 02/28/2017March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, personnel from the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at the JBER hospital will be visiting various locations to increase awareness of TBIs, ensuring people know the signs and symptoms, and know how and where to get help.
A TBI is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain, said Patricia Raymond Turner, Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center regional education coordinator. The severity of a TBI may range from mild, more commonly referred to as a concussion, to severe, which may result in an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss after the injury.
As of 2016, more than 357,000 service members have sustained a TBI. To put that into perspective, the population of Anchorage in 2016 was less than 300,000.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, TBI caused by exposure to explosions is common among Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn, the sources of blast injury most often are improvised explosive devices, artillery, rocket and mortar shells, traps, aerial bombs, and rocket-propelled grenades.
Most injuries in Alaska result from falls on ice or airborne operations, but other recreational activities like snowmachining, skiing, snowboarding, sledding and motorcycling are also common causes, Raymond Turner said.
The distinction between mild, moderate and severe can be identified by how long the person was unconscious, she said. Mild TBIs result in either not losing consciousness or blacking out for up to 30 minutes. Moderate can be measured by being unconscious for 30 minutes to 24 hours, and severe is for more than 24 hours.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls were the leading cause of TBI, accounting for 40 percent of all reported cases in the United States that resulted in an emergency room visit, hospitalization, or death.
Falls disproportionately affect young and old age groups; more than half of TBIs among children 0 to 14 years are caused by falls, and more than two-thirds in adults age 65 and older.
Symptoms of TBI are split into three categories; physical, cognitive and emotional.
The physical symptoms can include headache, sleep disturbances, dizziness, balance problems, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, visual disturbances, light sensitivity and ringing in the ears.
The cognitive symptoms can include slowed thinking, poor concentration, memory problems, and a difficulty finding words.
The emotional symptoms can include anxiety, depression, irritability and mood swings.
If you experience a bump on the noggin and you experience any of the symptoms listed, TBI clinic staff suggest you go to the emergency room.
"That way they can get checked out and make sure it is not more serious," Raymond Turner said. "If they've hit their head within the last week or two and they didn't go to the ER but are having some headaches or other symptoms they can see their [Primary Care Manager] first. Then the PCM can refer them here."
She said, a person can also self-refer.
"One person might have headaches and trouble sleeping, while another might feel dizzy and have some vision issues," Raymond Turner said. "Those are going to be two different courses of care. In some cases we will prescribe medication, but not always. It depends on the symptoms the person is having, and their severity. There's no one standard treatment plan. It's tailored to the patient."
"It's important to raise awareness among parents," Raymond Turner said. "If or when their kids get a concussion, they need to be able to recognize it. If they get treatment sooner than later they have a greater chance of fully recovering and their symptoms resolving."
For more information on TBI:
For information about concussion in youth and school sports: