Scenes like this may appear to be the ideal famly bike ride, but BrainTrust Canada says parents need to set an example, and be safe, by also wearing a bicycle helmet. In fact, in B.C., it’s the law. — Image credit: contributed

Head injury prevention a ‘no brainer’

The young are most vulnerable because brain development does not complete until around 25

BrainTrust Canada wants everyone—but especially the young—to use their heads, not lose their heads—when it comes to preventing brain injuries.

The Okanagan-based group helps people with brain injuries and, for 30 years, has also worked to help prevent them. It has initiated a number of programs over the years to help raise awareness, with the latest being a video game aimed directly at young people (see story page A7).

According to Magda Kapp, BrainTrust Canada’s director of communications and prevention services, the young are most vulnerable because brain development does not complete until around 25 years of age. As a result, young people are often the hardest group to reach.

“Many feel invincible,” said Kapp, adding there is also a sense of “it won’t happen to me.”

But she said brain injuries do not discriminate and can happen to anyone, at any time.

“The ground is just as hard for all of us,” she said.

Advances in brain injury education have been made in recent years, in part as a result of B.C.’s law making helmets mandatory for all bicycle riders regardless of age and with the recent focus on concussions in sport. Kapp said while it may seem to many that bicycle helmets are now standard equipment for all, she still sees many people out riding without a helmet, especially parents riding with their kids.

She said some parents will insist their children wear a helmet yet don’t wear them themselves. That not only sets a bad example for their children and sends a mixed message, it also doesn’t make sense as the risk is there just as much for adults.

It’s not just on two wheels that both young and old face a risk of a head injury. Helmets are strongly recommended, but not mandatory, for those who ski or snowboard. And often skiers will be seen swooshing down a hill not wearing a helmet.

Kapp pointed to the tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson a few years ago, who died on a Canadian ski hill, on a beginner run, after crashing into a tree. The full extent of her injury was not initially recognized and she died later from a brain bleed.

But according to statistics, people who suffer a brain injury are more likely to survive and have to live with it than die as a result of the accident that caused the injury. And the estimated cost of medically dealing with a brain injury over the lifetime of the person is now estimated at $4 million. And that does not take into account the adverse affects on lifestyle. In Canada, an astounding 500 people per day are believed to be affected in some way by brain injuries.

Kapp said BrainTrust Canada is attempting to reach out to young people, going to schools to spread the message about the importance of protecting our heads.

While he is not on hand for her presentations, one of Canada’s biggest sports stars, hockey player Sidney Crosby, is helping her reach the kids. Crosby has been sidelined twice for lengthy periods with concussions, which Kapp says is just another word for a brain injury.

“When we tell kids that, they perk up, especially the athletes in the room.”

With an estimated 90 per cent of brain injuries being preventable, the “invisible epidemic” as it is known can be addressed with a little more thought about prevention, said Kapp.

“It’s really is a no-brainer,” she said.

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