The dangers of brain injuries are catching the nation’s attention in the wake of an agreement by the National Football League to pay a $765 million settlement to former players suffering from years of football hits to the head.
Longtime Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre and Atlanta Falcons safety Deion Sanders are among the more noted victims of football-related brain injuries. The deaths of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson do even more to raise awareness. But there is serious doubt about whether the estimated 4,500 beneficiaries of this legal action will qualify for any financial benefits, according to the Brain Injury Association of America.
While it is troubling that the NFL still hasn’t accepted full responsibility for the debilitating injuries to players, anything that shines a light on this problem could help reduce the incidence of brain injuries.
Football players aren’t the only people who suffer brain injuries. Some 2.4 million Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries annually from blows to the head. In addition, about 795,000 suffer non-traumatic brain injuries each year, often caused by airway obstruction, near drowning or choking, according to the Brain Injury Association.
More than 5.3 million Americans — children and adults –are living with a disability caused by traumatic brain injury. Additionally, 1.1 million suffer from stroke-related disabilities.
The Brain Injury Association and other advocates mark Brain Injury Awareness Month in March to call attention to the causes and prevention of this condition and the need for better access to care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries from 2006 to 2010:
- Falls accounted for 40.5 percent of traumatic brain injuries that led to emergency room visits, hospitalization or death. More than 80 percent of traumatic brain injuries suffered by people 65 and older resulted from falls.
- Unintentional blunt trauma,such as being struck with an object, caused 15 percent of traumatic brain injuries.
- Car crashes caused 14 percent of traumatic brain injuries and 26 percent of the deaths related to brain injuries. Wrecks often involve rapid acceleration or deceleration of the head, which can separate the brain’s nerve fibers and damage brain tissue, according to BrainandSpinalCord.org.
- Assaults caused 10 percent of traumatic brain injuries and 3 percent of injuries among children under 15.
- Nineteen percent of traumatic brain injuries had an unknown cause.
Though NFL-related concussions have gotten a great deal of attention, children are more susceptible to head injuries than adults when playing sports and participating in recreation.
According to the CDC, about 248,418 people age 20 or younger, were treated in emergency rooms in 2009 for concussions or traumatic brain injuries caused by sports and recreation activities. Males ages 10 to 19 sustained the highest injury rate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that brain injuries can be prevented with increased awareness of the risks from playing youth sports and recreation, proper athletic techniques, better equipment, and more timely medical care.