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Raising Awareness of Brain Injuries

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March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month and the state Department of Health is holding events throughout the month to raise awareness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury each year in the U.S. –  and is a major cause of death and disability.

Locally, the Department of Health estimates between 2012 and 2016 more than 13,000 Hawai?i residents have sustained a traumatic brain injury each year.

Health officials consider this type of injury a hidden disability because the effects are not easily seen by others. But for individuals suffering from this type of injury, it can impact daily life and interactions.

Some symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include: headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise, blurred vision, and balance problems. It can also affect a person’s thinking or cognitive abilities, and the individual’s emotional well-being and certain behavior.

Cristina Valenzuela is with the Department of Health’s Developmental Disabilities Division.

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FMRI Brain Scan

In recognition of National Brain Injury Awareness Month, the DOH is holding several events on O?ahu to raise awareness of the impacts of brain injuries. This includes a traveling art exhibit, a movie screening and a safety booth at the University of Hawai?i at M?noa. (More information below.)

Valenzuela says they are considering expanding the events to neighbor islands in the future. She also says a majority of causes that can lead to brain injuries are easily preventable. They include:

  • Properly using helmets and other protective equipment, and safe playing techniques in sports and recreational activities;
  • Properly installing and using infant and child seats and seat belts;
  • Eliminating trip hazards at home for seniors and the elderly by regularly reviewing medications and having annual eye exams. Regular exercise is also recommended to help older adults maintain and improve their balance and coordination to prevent falls.

More information and resources can be found at: health.hawaii.gov/nt

Or you can call the help line for the Department of Health’s Neurotrauma Program at 808-733-2155

From March 10-15, the Unmasking Brain Injury Project will be on display at Pearlridge Center Downtown. The Unmasking Brain Injury Project is a national initiative that allows survivors to tell their stories through the design of three-dimensional artistic masks that are reflective of their experience of having a traumatic brain injury. The masks portray the emotions and feelings survivors have experienced from their personal journeys.

From March 16- April 2, the artworks will be on display at the Hawai?i State Capitol chamber level.

On Saturday, March 17 at 1 PM, a free showing of "Concussion" starring Will Smith will be presented at the John A. Burns School of Medicine Medical Education Building located at 651 Ilalo Street. There will be free popcorn, a trivia contest and prizes. More information can be found at pdc.jabsom.hawaii.edu or by calling 808-692-1370.

On Wednesday, March 21, from 9 AM to 1 PM, multi-sport helmets will be offered free to the first 300 students at the University of Hawai?i at M?noa Campus Center on a first-come, first-served basis. Students will also receive information on preventing traumatic brain injuries and tips on the proper use of helmets.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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