By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for the Havre Daily News
Parents and children need to put their heads together to prevent brain injuries.
The brain is like a master computer for the human body. It controls thinking, learning, language and memory. A child's ability to move, breathe, see, speak, hear and feel is controlled by the brain because the brain sends all of these signals to the parts of the body. It even affects a child's emotions and personality. With all these vital functions at risk, parents can see that protecting their child's brain from injury is a critical responsibility.
Each year, more than 1 million children suffer brain injuries, ranging from mild to severe trauma. More than 30,000 children have permanent disabilities as a result of brain injury annually. And traumatic brain injury is the most frequent cause of disability and death among children and adolescents in the United States.
Of all pediatric injury cases in the United States, about one third are related to brain injury, according to the National Pediatric Trauma Registry. Children are more susceptible to brain injury than adults. This is because their heads are proportionately larger, so they tend to land head first when falling.
What is a traumatic brain injury?
A traumatic brain injury occurs when an outside force causes harm to the brain. For example, someone in a motor vehicle crash might suffer a traumatic brain injury if his head hits the windshield during the collision.
How long does a brain injury last?
Every brain injury is unique, and some are much more serious than others. Some people who suffer brain injuries seem to get better very quickly. For others, the effects of a brain injury can last throughout their lifetime.
Does everyone who hits his head get a brain injury?
A hit to the head does not always result in a serious brain injury. Although it might hurt badly, most of the time a hit to the head results in very little damage to the brain.
How can brain injury be prevented?
There are many ways to prevent brain injuries, said Rachel Egner, a prevention specialist with the Brain Injury Association of America. She notes that an action that takes only a moment can protect the brain from very serious injury. Egner suggests adopting these brain-protective habits:
Wear a helmet when riding a bike, motorcycle, snowmobile, skateboard or scooter.
Wear a helmet when participating in a sport that puts the brain at risk. This includes skiing, snowboarding and in-line skating.
Buckle up in all vehicles.
Stay away from violence and guns.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offer these additional instructions for reducing the risk of brain injury:
Protective surfacing under and around - at least 6 feet in all directions - playground equipment can reduce the risk of serious head injury. Use at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel, or mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.
Make sure play structures more than 30 inches high are spaced at least 9 feet apart.
An adult should watch for potential hazards, and observe and intercede with play when necessary.
Adult supervision is especially critical when children play on swings, monkey bars, climbers and slides.
Strings on clothing or ropes used for play can cause accidental strangulation if caught on equipment.
Medical research shows that a bicycle helmet could prevent 85 percent of bicyclists' head injuries.
Having friends or parents who wear bike helmets significantly encourages children to use them.
Buy a helmet that meets the safety standards of the American National Standards Institute or the Snell Memorial Foundation.
For the helmet to work effectively in preventing injuries, it must be worn correctly and fit properly. These three steps will ensure a proper fit:
Tighten the chin strap to keep the helmet from slipping forward or backward.
The space between the chin and the chin strap should be no larger than the width of two fingers.
Place the helmet directly over the forehead, not tilted back.
Brain injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes.
Fifty-one percent of motorcycle drivers ages 15 to 20 who were fatally injured in crashes were not wearing helmets.
Motorcycle helmets are 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries.
In-line skating, skateboard
and scooter safety
Children under age 8 should not use this equipment without close adult supervision.
Wearing a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards will prevent most of the injuries typically seen with the use of this equipment.
Bicycle helmets and in-line skate helmets are designed to the same American Society for Testing and Materials safety standards. Either type of helmet is adequate for skateboard and scooter protection.
Winter sports safety
A total of 7,700 head injuries could be prevented or reduced in severity each year if people wore helmets while snowboarding and skiing.
A Swedish study determined that skiers wearing helmets were 50 percent less likely to suffer head injuries compared with skiers who did not wear helmets.
Head injuries are the leading cause of snowmobile-related deaths and serious injury.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that skiers and snowboarders wear helmets specifically designed for these types of activities. There are helmets available that meet safety standards for snow sports.
In addition to wearing helmets specifically designed for skiing or snowboarding, it is wise to follow the National Ski Areas Association's Responsibility Code:
Always stay in control and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
People ahead of you have the right of way.
Stop in places that are safe for you and others.
Whenever you're starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield.
Use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
Observe all signs and warnings, and keep off closed trails.
Know how to use the lifts safely.
Please note that helmets and other safety equipment cannot provide total protection. Nor are they a substitute for good judgment. The use of helmets should never encourage a false sense of security or encourage risky and hazardous behavior among those who wear them while participating in any sport.
The HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line is committed to promoting a safety-minded lifestyle for everyone in the community. For more information on this or related topics, call 265-6206.