Digging deeper into traumatic brain injuries

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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and according to the CDC, traumatic brain injuries affect millions of people in the U.S. each year.

Falls are a leading cause, and older adults are at an increased risk for sustaining a TBI.

As Dr. Randall Chesnut, of UW Medicine and director of neurotrauma at Harborview Medical Center, explains, a traumatic brain injury impacts how the brain works, and there are three main types: mild, moderate and severe.

"The important thing about brain injury is that it’s not about life or death it’s about quality of survival, so it isn’t like a lot of diseases," said Dr. Chesnut.

According to the CDC,there were about 61,000 TBI-related deaths in the United States in 2019. And while a traumatic brain injury could impact anyone, the CDC says data shows some groups are at higher risk of dying or experiencing long term health problems. That includes racial and ethnic minorities, service members and veterans, people experiencing homelessness, those in correctional and detention facilities, survivors of domestic violence, and people living in rural areas.

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"The best treatment is prevention and wearing helmets being responsible wearing seatbelts," said Dr. Chesnut. "I think the number one thing is just to be careful - don’t expect something to protect you - hedge your bets certainly on motorcycles, bicycles, skateboards, snowboards, etc.

It’s important to note the CDC says older adults are more likely to be hospitalized and die from a TBI.

Compared to all other age groups, TBIs may be missed or misdiagnosed in older adults because the symptoms can overlap with other medical conditions - like dementia.

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