A brain injury is a trauma to the brain resulting from an external physical force to the head. It disrupts the normal function of the brain caused by the blunt force to the head-neck-spinal cord leading to short-term or long-term physical, mental, and psychosocial problems.
It may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe brain injury, depending on whether the injury causes loss of consciousness, the duration of unconsciousness, and the severity of your symptoms.
According to the World Health Organization, brain injury is a silent public health epidemic that injures or kills a significant number of people every year. Over the years, it has remained the leading cause of mortality, disability, and morbidity worldwide.
The staggering number of people affected reveals the devastating impact of a brain injury. In the United States, brain injuries kill an estimated 2 million Americans annually and incapacitate 5.3 million Americans, of which 80,000 sustain long-term disability. These figures above, however, are not an accurate depiction of reality.
More often than not, brain injuries go unnoticed and undiagnosed, especially those sustained by people in the workplace, to avoid job loss and salary deduction.
How often does work-related brain injury occur?
Out of the reported work-related injuries in the United States, head and brain injuries make up 12% of the chart caused by slips, trips and falls, falling objects, malfunctioning equipment, being struck by a moving vehicle or equipment, falling from a work vehicle, getting stuck under an overturned vehicle, fire and explosions, and physical assault by co-workers, among others.
Work-related brain injuries require immediate medical care and attention, resulting in lost work days, reduced productivity, and long-term morbidity.
If you recently sustained a brain injury at work, you should know that your brain injury may lead to dementia in one way or another.
Read on to learn more about the risks of dementia following a brain injury at work, symptoms you need to watch out for, and potential treatments and preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of developing this debilitating condition after brain injury.
Possibility of Dementia After a Brain Injury at Work
Dementia is a progressive neurological disorder which impairs memory, language, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions. It is caused by a severe damage to the brain tissues due to an injury or disease.
Most outcomes of brain injury are primary — damage and symptoms are immediate. However, some results of brain injury, such as dementia, among others, are secondary — they occur gradually or days, months, or even years after the injury happens.
Studies show that an estimated 10 to 20% of people who suffer from a brain injury, whether mild, moderate, or severe, will develop dementia within five years of the injury. Unlike other occupational injuries, work-related brain injury increases the risk of dementia between 2-fold and 4-fold. Moreover, based on new research conducted by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, even a single head injury may lead to dementia later in life.
The possibility of developing dementia increases based on the number of prior head or brain injuries you sustained. This risk further increases with the age and severity of the injury.
If you have experienced several brain injuries in your workplace, you should expect a more rapid cognitive decline than those with only a single instance of brain injury.
If you are older when you suffer from a brain injury, you are more likely to develop dementia than younger individuals with similar injuries.
It is, therefore, vital to seek immediate medical treatment following a brain injury and know the risks of dementia to minimize any potential long-term effects.
Symptoms of Dementia
Early detection of symptoms of dementia is as important as the immediate treatment of brain injury.
Dementia causes serious personality, behavioral, mental, and psychological changes, which is why knowing the symptoms of dementia can get you the proper support from your family, relatives, and friends and help you live better with the condition.
The following are some of the common symptoms of dementia:
- Memory loss
- Confusion and disorientation
- Inappropriate behavior
- Personality or behavior changes
- Excessive sleeping
- Poor judgment
- Poor spatial skills
Take note that dementia is a progressive condition, which means its symptoms start slowly and gradually worsen.
Therefore, if you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of dementia several years after a head or brain injury, don’t ignore them.
Remember that timely diagnosis allows you to get the maximum benefit from available treatments to prevent the aggravation of your condition.
Prevention of Dementia Following a Brain Injury
Prevention plays a significant role in developing dementia after brain injury.
As a person who experienced brain injury, you should know that preventing another head or brain injury following your recent injury could mitigate the possibility of dementia later on.
While brain injury is not the only significant risk factor that may lead to dementia years after your injury took place, it is a factor for dementia that may be controllable through behavioral changes, such as wearing seatbelts and helmets and avoiding risky activities to reduce the chance of a brain injury in the future.
Remember that while it is true that brain injury is a major risk factor for dementia, it is not the whole picture because there are other contributing factors that you may not know.
Therefore, your major focus should be on prevention to minimize brain trauma.
Here are some tips you may want to remember:
Speak to a Health Professional
If you or a family member, a relative, or a loved one sustained a work-related brain injury, you must consult a medical doctor or specialist.
Although the cause of dementia is unknown and cannot be effectively treated, leading a healthy lifestyle and monitoring your health following a brain injury is important to reduce the risk of dementia.
Prevent Post-Injury Seizures
According to research analyzed by the University of Alberta, blocking seizures following brain injury could stave off the onset of dementia.
Since seizures often result from brain injuries, neurologists prescribe anti-epileptic treatments.
Although much work is needed on your part, keep your hopes up.
Look at the brighter side of things. If you fall and hit your head during a seizure, it may result in another brain injury, thus, increasing the chance of dementia later on.
The best that you can do is to be proactive in dealing with your situation. After you have sustained a brain injury at work, seek immediate help from a medical expert and ask what symptoms you should be aware of, especially if you only had a mild brain injury.
Remember that even minor head or brain injuries can increase your risk of dementia in later life.
Avoid Risky Activities
After you suffer a brain injury, staying on top of your activities and following the doctor’s orders is vital.
Avoid physically demanding activities that require a lot of thinking and concentration because these activities worsen your symptoms and slow your recovery.
These are some of the activities which you need to avoid following a brain injury:
- Brisk walking
- Bending down quickly
- Physically demanding household work
- Working out
- Balancing your sheet
- Stressing out
- Watching television for hours
- Playing video games
- Playing other physically strenuous games
Sudden movements can jerk your head, aggravate your brain injury, and slow your recovery. Worse, you may sustain another head or brain injury.
Remember that the more head or brain injuries you sustain, the more you risk developing dementia shortly.
It is not old news that head trauma and lifestyle are risk factors for dementia. You may not know that both lack of and too much sleep increase your risk of developing dementia later.
Researchers found that those who sleep for less than five hours a night are twice as prone to develop dementia compared to those who get eight hours per night.
Healthy sleep and adequate rest are essential for a person who sustained a brain injury.
Take note that a healthy brain requires healthy sleep, which means our bodies must go through the normal cycle of various sleeping stages like the following:
- Stage 1 and 2: Light sleep
- Stage 3: Deep sleep or slow-wave sleep
- Stage 4: Rapid movement (REM) sleep or dream sleep
During stages 3 and 4, your body restores itself and achieves restorative sleep making it crucial for cognitive function and overall health, especially after a disabling brain injury.
Even if you develop dementia once you are older, having the right amount of sleep every night can minimize the long-term effects of the condition.
Improve Daily Routines and Habits
The direct causes of dementia are unknown up to this day. However, genetics, lifestyle choices, and sleeping patterns are risk factors for dementia.
After getting a brain injury, daily routines and habits are more crucial than ever.
If you were an alcoholic, a heavy coffee drinker, or an undisciplined eater before the injury occurred, consider changing those habits. Learn to eat brain-healthy food.
If your lifestyle contributes to your poor and insufficient sleep, implement new ways and strategies to improve your day and night routines, such as buying the right bedding, creating pre-bedtime behaviors like not bringing phones or tablets to bed and other wind-down practices, and designing your bedroom for comfort and relaxation.
Try to improve your daily health habits, such as incorporating minor exercises which are not physically demanding and making the necessary diet changes for your overall health.
Consult a Personal Injury Attorney Today
If you or someone you know sustained a brain injury, it is important to consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
A Houston personal injury lawyer can help you understand your rights and seek compensation for your injury and any injury-related damages. In particular, if the injury is related to brain trauma, seeking the legal advice of a personal injury attorney can ensure that you will be entitled to the right compensation equivalent to the risks of developing dementia in the future.