03/25/05 — Groups seek more awareness of brain injury

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Groups seek more awareness of brain injury

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 25, 2005 1:48 PM

It's called the "silent epidemic" because, for many, brain injuries go undiagnosed.

"People don't even know that they have a brain injury," said Darlene Wetzel, community outreach coordinator with the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina.

"It's sometimes missed when a child falls or bumps his head and gets a concussion. The family goes to the doctor and then goes home and later, things may be different, but the parent can't put their finger on it."

Pier Tarrant leads a local support group for brain injury survivors and family members. All too often, she said, cases go undiagnosed because the symptoms are so subtle.

"Individuals are feeling different," Ms. Tarrant said. "They know things are not the same, maybe take the form of emotional problems" but aren't specific enough to warrant a doctor visit.

The causes vary, she added. It used to be that that the largest number of cases were males between 16 and 25 years old, occurring as the result of automobile and motorcycle accidents. Today, the statistics are broader. Heart attacks, strokes or injuries resulting from falls are now on the list of causes of brain injuries. Soldiers exposed to explosive devices are also at risk.

Currently, Ms. Wetzel said, 43,000 people in North Carolina have some sort of brain injury.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.4 million people sustain traumatic brain injury each year in the United States. Of them, about 50,000 die, 235,000 are hospitalized and 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency department.

While many recover, the CDC says, each year an estimated 80,000-90,000 people's injuries result in permanent disability.

"Traumatic brain injury is frequently referred to as the 'silent epidemic' because the complications that result from TBI, such as problems with thinking and memory, are often not visible, and because awareness with TBI among the general public is limited," said Susan H. Connors, president and CEO of the Brain Injury Association of America.

With a case occurring every 23 seconds, Ms. Connors said it is a public health concern that ranks as a leading cause of death and disability in children and young adults. For those who survive and their families, she said, brain injury is life-altering.

"Serious physical impairments are a frequent result, as are a variety of cognitive, behavioral and emotional complications," she said. As a result, "TBI costs our nation a staggering $56.3 billion a year."

On Thursday, Mayor Al King visited ReNu Life, a Goldsboro rehabilitative facility for adults suffering from brain injuries. He read a proclamation declaring March as Brain Injury Awareness Month and said his hope is that the public will become more aware and knowledgeable about the subject.