As the temperature drops and the days grow shorter, people tend to find themselves spending increasing amounts of time indoors. The answer for many people? Winter sports! Activities like skiing, sledding, ice skating and snowboarding offer a great opportunity to go outside and get active, even when the weather is subzero. Unfortunately, winter sports also come with a high risk of head injury. To raise awareness of this risk, each January several organizations recognize National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. Any type of head injury can put a person at risk for a traumatic brain injury (TBI), including those that may seem relatively mild. TBI can cause a range of disabilities, including difficulties with language and cognition, so it is important to be as cautious as possible when dealing with possible head injuries. What can you do to stay safe? Take a look at our three basic steps: prevention, recognition, action!
Prevention: Protect Your Head! Be sure to use a helmet with any sport that carries a risk of head injury. It’s also essential that your helmet fits properly—protective gear that is too loose or too tight won’t protect you as well as one that fits. Before starting your activity, check your helmet to make sure it fits properly, especially if you’re wearing other head gear, like a hat. Also take a close look at your gear each time you use it to check for damage that could compromise its protective value. Many years ago I was out riding with a friend when she suffered a terrible bike accident. She was hit by a car pulling a U-haul. I will never forget when the doctor came out to the waiting room to say, “Her helmet saved her life.” Be safe!
Recognition: If you’re participating in a sport that carries the risk of head injury, you should be familiar with the signs of TBI so you can recognize them early. After a head injury (even a “minor” one!), keep an eye out for any change in behavior. Memory problems or a loss of consciousness are clear signs of a possible concussion, a form of traumatic brain injury. But other, more subtle, signs are easy to overlook. Listlessness, headaches, decreased coordination, confusion, irritability, or a change in sleeping patterns can all be signs that a brain injury has occurred. Remember: these symptoms don’t always occur immediately, so be mindful of any changes for several weeks following injury.
Action! All too often, people consider injuries like a concussion “minor.” But even head injuries that seem minor can have significant consequences down the road. All head injuries, no matter how minor they seem, should be taken seriously. If you or a loved one sustains any type of head injury, keep an eye out for the above signs and symptoms of brain injury, seek medical attention to rule out larger issues.
No one anticipates a head injury. Many people don’t realize the long lasting, often subtle changes that can change your life forever. Be safe. You can still enjoy your winter sports but keep these three basic steps in mind; prevention, recognition, action!
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