A few weeks ago, BrainLine tweeted: “Join the #LoveYourBrain campaign.”
I asked them what that was about, and @TheCrashReel replied that it’s a campaign to educate others about brain injury, concussion, and safety. There are a few of these kinds of awareness campaigns going on in Canada, the US, and other countries, but I was rather taken by the hashtag of this one. #LoveYourBrain. It’s so evocative, and it’s so counter to what we do. Our brains are what keep us alive. No brains, no life. Yet we treat our brains as if they were less important than our appendix. It’s okay to box the head, but not the body. Hockey fights are all about pounding the head and thus the brain. Television shows and books detail people being hit on the head, the jaw, the face as if a little time spent being woozy, shaking your head, losing consciousness, is no biggie.
We most definitely do not love our brains.
It’s time we did.
The tweeters behind @TheCrashReel account told me that the campaign is still in the works. They have begun with a YouTube playlist as a resource while they connect with organizations. The Twitter handle “@TheCrashReel” comes from the 2013 movie The Crash Reel about US snowboarder Kevin Pearce crashing during training for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and suffering a traumatic brain injury as a result. The director Lucy Walker followed him and his family as he began the grinding road of rehabilitation to reclaim his brain and his permanently altered life.
As is the case with football and hockey, this film and the #LoveYourBrain campaign that is coming out of it is grounded in sports. #LoveYourBrain is devoted to “spreading information and awareness of the risks of extreme sports and brain injuries/concussions.” (From The Crash Reel’s YouTube About page.) Yet it’s not sports but car crashes that are the bigger menace to our brains. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (PDF of their 31-page Analysis in Brief):
“Sports and recreational activities were the third leading cause of traumatic head injury admissions in Canada in 2003 – 2004.” (my emphasis)
Although 28% of head injuries in children that required hospital admission were from injuries due to sports and recreation, 39% were from car crashes, and 40% from falls. In adults, ages 20 to 60, the leading cause was car crashes. People older than 60 tended to get their head injuries from falling. We need to make the muscles, bones, and balance stronger in our older population!
But these statistics are for hospitalizations. What about concussions? The kind of brain injury that you don’t go to hospital for, maybe see your GP and go home and rest, whilst stupidly thinking, I’ll be better in a few weeks? In my admittedly brief search, I couldn’t find any. The Brain Injury Association of Canada (BIAC) writes:
“Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics for 2003 indicates that there were 222,260 victims. Detailed statistics on the number of neurological disease, disorders and injuries [include all those who suffered any visible injury or complained of pain following a road accident] are not readily available and requires more research. Being a new organization, we will work closely with provincial organizations, medical institutions and governments to collect data to be converted into reliable statistics for Canada in the future.”
But those stats that the BIAC are going to try and document would not include ones for sports and recreation or falls. According to the Brain Injury Association of Waterloo – Wellington, close to 4% of all Canadians are living with a brain injury. That is way too many Canadians. And 20% of sports-related injuries are from concussion. The Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) also has a page of stats with links, one of the more concerning being that over half of the homeless population have a traumatic brain injury.
If you have the time to hunt, you’ll see that various organizations in different countries and regions, different health organizations, are all working independently of each other to gather statistics or report on what others wrote, to launch their own awareness campaigns, and to talk to the affected. BIST, the organization I belong to, hosts a brain injury awareness event every June at Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto City Hall), which I attended one year. But I did wonder how many people went home going, “hmmm…I need to think more about this topic, learn more, and change my attitude toward brain injury.”
The World Health Organization notes on their neurotrauma page:
“many countries need to develop surveillance systems and conduct epidemiologic studies to measure the impact of neurotrauma among their people to guide the development of more effective preventive methods”
And I’d add treatment methods.
Because of football in the US and hockey in Canada, concussion as a serious problem is starting to make headway into the minds of ordinary people who haven’t had a brain injury or don’t think much about the people they know who do, for let’s face it, how many of us with brain injury retain any sort of regular contact with people who knew us pre-injury after the first couple of years, the years I call the honeymoon period in my book Concussion Is Brain Injury? Not many. And when those people leave us, I bet it’s out of sight, out of mind for them when it comes to brain injury.
Only a societal shift and a sustained awareness campaign across the spectrum of regions and continents, like the drunk driving campaigns, will make the change we need to see.
Right now there are too many cooks boiling too many pots of campaigns. We need a concerted, co-ordinated effort by all involved. I like the #LoveYourBrain moniker as the name that could link all the campaigns. It’s one I can get behind.