As you most likely know, certain months of the year are dedicated to promoting awareness of health conditions.  Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) is one of the most well-known awareness months thanks to the National Football League.  It’s pretty noticeable when you see a 300+ pound defensive lineman sack a quarterback while wearing bright pink gloves and cleats.  Speaking of rough sports, January brings another awareness month, one less known in popular culture.  January is National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Awareness Month.

Though you may have never heard of National Winter Sports TBI Month, I bet you’ve heard of the X Games.  If you haven’t, I will summarize.  The X Games is a sports event hosted by ESPN which focuses on extreme “X” sports.  The 2017 Winter X Games take place in just a few weeks in Colorado.

The popularity of the X Games continues to grow each year as do the number of people participating in action sports.  Unfortunately, along with participating in these sports, concussions and other TBIs can occur.  National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month was started to bring awareness to the health risks that athletes face when they participate in winter sports such as ice hockey, skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating, and snowmobiling.

What is a traumatic brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury occurs when an external mechanical force causes brain dysfunction.  TBI usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body.  According to the CDC, the severity of TBI can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe on the basis of clinical presentation of a patient’s neurologic signs and symptoms.  The symptoms of TBI vary from one person to another, and although some symptoms might resolve completely, others, especially as a result of moderate and severe TBIs, can result in symptoms that persist, resulting in partial or permanent disability.

What can cause traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury is caused by a blow or other traumatic injury to the head or body.  The degree of damage can depend on several factors, including the nature of the event and the force of impact.

Common events causing TBI include the following:

Falls – Falling out of bed, slipping in the bath, falling down steps, falling from ladders and related falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury overall, particularly in older adults and young children.

Vehicle-related collisions – Collisions involving cars, motorcycles or bicycles – and pedestrians involved in such accidents – are a common cause of traumatic brain injury.

Violence – About 20 percent of traumatic brain injuries are caused by violence, such as gunshot wounds, domestic violence or child abuse.  Shaken baby syndrome is traumatic brain injury caused by the violent shaking of an infant that damages brain cells.

Sports injuries – Traumatic brain injuries may be caused by injuries from a number of sports, including soccer, boxing, football, baseball, lacrosse, skateboarding, hockey, and other high-impact or extreme sports, particularly in youth.

Explosive blasts and other combat injuries – Explosive blasts are a common cause of traumatic brain injury in active-duty military personnel.  Although the mechanism of damage isn’t yet well-understood, many researchers believe that the pressure wave passing through the brain significantly disrupts brain function.

Why are traumatic brain injuries such a big problem?

TBI is a major cause of death and disability in the United States, contributing to about 30% of all injury deaths.  Every day, 138 people in the U.S. die from injuries that include TBI.  A TBI can adversely affect a person’s quality of life in numerous ways.

Complications brought on by TMI can vary from short-term and mild to long-term and severe.  Complications can include:

  • Altered consciousness
    • Coma
    • Vegetative states
    • Minimally conscious state
    • Locked-in syndrome
    • Brain death
  • Seizures
  • Fluid buildup
  • Infections
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Nerve damage (paralysis, loss of vision, swallowing problems)
  • Intellectual problems
    • Cognitive problems (memory, learning, reasoning, judgment)
    • Executive functioning problems (multitasking, decision-making, problem-solving)
  • Communication problems
    • Cognitive problems (difficulty speaking or writing, inability to organize thoughts)
    • Social problems (trouble starting or stopping conversations, trouble taking turns)
  • Behavioral changes (difficulty with self-control, risky behavior, verbal or physical outbursts)
  • Emotional changes (depression, mood swings, anger, insomnia)
  • Sensory problems (persistent ringing in the ears, blind spots or double vision, difficulty smelling)
  • Degenerative brain diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease)

What measures should I take to prevent TBI?

Skiing and snowboarding are some of the most popular winter sports in the United States.  More than 13.5 million Americans skied at least once in 2015 and nearly 7.7 million Americans snowboarded the same year.  It’s hard enough to stay active during those cold winter months, simply saying you shouldn’t risk yourself by participating in these active sports is unrealistic.  The most common type of traumatic brain injury is a concussion.  If you or a loved one participates in winter sports, take precautions to prevent head injury.

The CDC suggests that winter sports enthusiasts may be able to prevent head injuries by taking the following preventive measures:

  • Wear approved, well-maintained and properly-fitted protective equipment, such as helmets.
  • Stipulate a no hits to the head or other dangerous play in hockey and other sports such as skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling.
  • Practice safe playing techniques and encourage athletes to follow the rules of play during all winter sports events.

Does a history of traumatic brain injury affect buying life insurance?

The types and severity of traumatic brain injury can vary by such a degree that it isn’t possible to simply say “Yes, you can get life insurance even if you have had a TBI” or “No, you can’t get life insurance because of your history of TBI.”  Life insurance is all about mortality calculations.  The good news is that there is little to no impact on mortality with regards to the less severe forms of acute TBI, such as concussions.  The bad news is severe forms of chronic TBI, such as dementia, have significant reductions in life expectancy.

Life insurance company underwriters will focus on the following when evaluating an application:

  • What was the sport or avocation (job) involved at the time of the injury?
  • What is the applicant’s professional status?
  • Have there been repeat injuries?
  • What are the residual impairments, if any?
  • Is applicant continuing in the sport/avocation?
  • Is there any evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, dementia, severe depression, suicidal ideation, aggressive behavior, etc.?

Generally, if the applicant fully recovered with no residual impairments, being approved for life insurance won’t be an issue.  If applicant has lingering residual impairments, it will be underwritten on a case-by-case basis.  Applicant could be approved standard, table rated, or declined altogether.

The moral of the story is to take caution if participating in action sports, listen to your doctors, and strive to live an overall healthy lifestyle.

 

Photo credit to: Torsten Mangner

 

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