Demystifying Concussion: What You Need to Know

Contributor: Dr. Kelly Kollias, Neuropsychologist, Bancroft NeuroRehab

Considering the hot debate and heavy promotion of Will Smith’s most recent blockbuster, Concussion, you might think sports and other athletic activities are the leading cause of concussions and other brain injuries. Not true – and it’s more important than ever for families to know the facts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sports and recreational activities (like football) are nowhere near the largest contributor to brain injuries in children and adults. In fact, simple slips and falls cause nearly 40 percent of concussions nationwide.

Add to these startling numbers the recent hurricanes, torrential rains and ice storms in our region, with winter’s treacherous icy sidewalks and white-out snows still to come, and brain injuries are topping the list of concerns for South Jersey families.

A mild to moderate brain injury can happen to anyone, at any time – certainly not just athletes, and having access to specialized resources and experts can provide immense peace of mind – literally.

As a neuropsychologist, my clinical training has focused on understanding and treating concussion and neurological impairments. I can attest to the profound difference the right experts can make – both immediately after a brain injury and also many months later, when patients are often still battling residual effects such as dizziness, memory issues and anxiety.

But, despite the heightened awareness regarding concussion, individuals don’t always find their way to the correct healthcare provider. Often, concussion sufferers are cleared too soon, never receiving proper medical attention, a neuropsychological evaluation or the specialized cognitive rehabilitation therapies that can help facilitate the post-concussion healing process.

This winter season, as the streets turn icy and children throughout our region log extra miles on those hoverboards and scooters, knowing where to find the right expert is the first important step in properly treating a brain injury.

Additionally, remember the following quick tips, should you suspect you or a loved one has a concussion:

  1. Seek medical attention for any incident that results in concussive symptoms such as headache, dizziness, confusion or nausea.
  2. Get plenty of rest! Maintain a normal sleep routine at night and take it easy during the day. Refrain from strenuous exercise or activities that can slow recovery or even put you at risk for reinjury.
  3. Steer clear of video games, texting and television if possible. These activities can enhance the dizziness and nausea that often accompany a mild concussion and impede healing.
  4. Keep meals light and frequent until symptoms subside. Eating small meals several times a day will provide an energy boost and discourage additional concussion-related gastrointestinal symptoms.

Fortunately, many patients fully recover from mild concussions and suffer no long-term effects, especially after following proper protocol. But just because concussions and similar injuries may be common this time of year doesn’t mean they should be discounted.

Be safe this winter. Use extra caution to avoid concussions and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Wear appropriate protective gear and consult your primary care physician if you suffer an injury. If cognitive and physical symptoms persist, seek a neuropsychological evaluation. Be kind to your mind. After all, you only have one.

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