National Brain Injury Awareness Month: Understanding and Preventing Traumatic Brain Injuries

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, there are more than 5.3 million children and adults in the United States who are living with a permanent brain injury-related disability. Brain injury is a leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. At least 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic injury (TBI) each year.

National Brain Injury Awareness Month in March alerts us to the causes and aims to eliminate the stigma surrounding brain injuries. When it comes to brain injuries, not a single injury or person is the same. The month is dedicated to improving awareness of brain injuries.

Two types of brain injuries are traumatic and non-traumatic. Traumatic brain injuries occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents, sports or recreational injuries, domestic violence, falls and other external forces. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of injury-related death and disability in the United States. Causes of non-traumatic brain injuries begin internally due to disease, poisoning, a hereditary condition, lack of oxygen, stroke, or other internal medical condition.

TBI Signs and Symptoms

  • Call your health care professional or 911 right away if you or someone you know has an injury to the head and you notice ANY of the items on this list.
  • Observable TBI Signs
    o Appearing dazed and stunned
    o Forgetting an instruction
    o Moving clumsily
    o Answering questions slowly
    o Losing consciousness (even briefly)
    o Showing mood, behavior, or personality changes
    o Being unable to recall events prior to and/or after a hit or fall
  • Symptoms Reported by Persons with TBI
    o Headache or “pressure” in head – “Worse headache of life”
    o Nausea or vomiting
    o Balance problems or dizziness
    o Double or blurry vision
    o Sensitivity to light or noise
    o Sensation of feeling sluggish
    o Concentration or memory problems
    o Confusion
    o Not “feeling right” or “feeling down”
    o Mood changes, such as irritability, sadness, nervousness, anxiety, or acting more emotional than normal
    o Changes in sleep patterns

Treatment of traumatic brain injury is based on the cause and the severity of the injury.

Mild traumatic brain injuries usually require no treatment other than rest and over-the-counter pain relievers to treat a headache. However, a person may need to be monitored closely at home for any worsening symptoms and he or she may have follow-up doctor appointments.

Emergency care for moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries focuses on making sure the person has enough oxygen and an adequate blood supply, maintaining blood pressure, and preventing any further injury to the head or neck. People with severe injuries may also have other injuries that need to be addressed. “Fortunately, most traumatic brain injuries are considered minor. However, the symptoms associated with even a simple concussion can be quite challenging to the patient” said William S. Hoff, MD, FACS, Penn Highlands Trauma Program Medical Director. “The key to head injury management is doing everything possible to prevent the injury from occurring in the first place. Turn lights on when walking down steps, wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, motorcycle or all-terrain vehicle and, please, wear seatbelts when driving.”

Most people who have had a significant brain injury will require rehabilitation. They may need to relearn basic skills, such as walking or talking. The goal is to improve their abilities to perform daily activities. Therapy usually begins in the hospital and continues at an inpatient rehabilitation unit, a residential treatment facility or through outpatient services. The type and length of rehabilitation is different for everyone, depending on the severity of the brain injury and what part of the brain was injured.

Physical therapists can play a significant role in the rehabilitation process, particularly in the treatment of systems relating to neck and upper back pain as well as dizziness, eye tracking and balance problems. Penn Highlands provides athletic training services for our local school districts providing early detection and treatment of concussion injuries. Both the athletic trainer and physical therapist work together to help athletes return back to sport and play activities.

While a TBI can happen to anyone, males and the youngest and oldest Americans are at greatest risk.


Falls are the leading cause of TBI and are responsible for half of all TBI’s among children. However, there are several simple ways parents and caregivers can prevent these injuries.

  • Supervision is key. Supervise young children at all times around fall hazards such as stairs and playground equipment, whether you are at home or outside playing.
  • Play safely. Be sure that the surfaces under playground equipment are soft, well-maintained, and free from hazards.
  • Make your home safer. Use home safety devices such as guards on windows that are above ground level, stair gates, and guard rails which help keep active kids from taking dangerous falls.
  • Keep sports safe. Promote good sportsmanship and adherence to rules of play, and make sure your children wear proper protective gear during sports and recreational activities.

Falls cause 81 percent of TBIs among adults aged 65 years and older. Here are some steps that older adults can take to prevent falls:

  • Talk to your doctor about fall risk and prevention.
  • Do strength and balance exercises.
  • Have your eyes checked.
  • Make your home safer by:
    o Getting rid of things you can trip over.
    o Adding grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet.
    o Putting railings on both sides of stairs.
    o Making sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs.

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of TBI-related deaths for youth and young adults. Everyone can improve motor vehicle safety by:

  • Using seat belts on every trip, no matter how short. Make sure all passengers buckle up too.
  • Buckling children in age and size appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seat belts. Kids ages 12 and under should be properly buckled in the back seat.
  • Choosing not to drive after drinking alcohol or using drugs and helping others do the same.

If you or someone you know has experienced a brain injury or is need of brain care and would like more information about services at Penn Highlands Healthcare, please visit