March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month. (Courtesy photo)

The Balm in Gilead, Inc., a Virginia-based nonprofit that develops educational and training programs and who strives to become community centers for health education and disease prevention, showed foresight last year in launching the new initiative and website, the National Brain Health Center for African Americans.

Officials said the center’s mission is to raise awareness of the issues of cognitive health among African-Americans by working through networks of faith-based institutions and by establishing partnerships with organizations and individuals dedicated to the mission.

They said it’s important to note that March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month and the Brain Health Center serves as an information hub on cognitive heath and the human brain.

“Understanding how our brain functions and what it requires to stay healthy are crucial in the future of the African-American community,” Dr. Pernessa Seele, founder and CEO of The Balm in Gilead, Inc, said in a statement posted on the new website. “Attaining health equity is a goal of the Brain Health Center and we want to make sure we are doing what we can to eliminate health disparities among African-Americans,” Seele said.

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a major cause of death and disability in the United States, contributing to about 30 percent of all injury deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Every day, 138 individuals in the United States die from traumatic brain injuries, while those who survive such an injury can face effects ranging from a few days to lifelong, including impaired thinking or memory, movement, sensation such as vision or hearing, or emotional functioning such as personality changes or depression.

A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI, experts said.

The severity of a TBI may range from mild, like a brief change in mental status or consciousness, to severe, like an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss.

CDC officials said about 2.5 million individuals visited the emergency department, were hospitalized or died as a result of or of TBI-associated injuries in 2010, the most recent year statistics are available.

In October, the Lisa Colagrossi Foundation, a leader in raising awareness and education of brain aneurysms, revealed new survey findings about the African-American population to help guide the focus of brain aneurysm education in the black community.

Founder Todd Crawford, who named the foundation for his late wife, an ABC News television journalist who died from a brain aneurysm rupture while on assignment, said millions of lives can be saved if Americans are equipped with the critical information necessary to self-diagnose themselves and are informed about what to do. Currently, 93 percent of Americans admit their knowledge about brain aneurysms ranges from limited to nonexistent.

In addition to the startling lack of awareness regarding the higher risk levels, 90 percent of Americans ages 18 and older can’t fully identify what a brain aneurysm is and 30 percent don’t believe anything can be done about it.

“If someone had been doing the work TLCF is now, advancing the signs and symptoms, we could have recognized Lisa’s sudden onset of the worst headache of her life as one of the classic warning signs of a brain aneurysm and chances are that she would be working right alongside of us advocating for increased awareness,” Crawford told the Los Angeles Sentinel. “Our mission and approach are very different and have already been validated as a number of people have credited TCLF with saving their lives in just our first year. We have barely scratched the surface and won’t stop until our mission is complete.”

The Sentinel reported that the findings were problematic for African-Americans who medical experts said are not only at a higher risk, but whose peak incidence of ruptures occurs a decade earlier than other populations.

Dr. Howard Riina, a leading neurosurgeon at NYU Langone and the head of the medical board for TLCF, said there are prevention strategies and treatments in place to stop a brain aneurysm from rupturing.

“The real problem is that brain aneurysms occur suddenly and Americans are not informed to recognize all the signs,” Riina said. “Consequently, they aren’t getting to the emergency room early enough and lives that might have been saved are lost or diminished by lifelong disabilities.”


Signs and Symptoms of Brain Injury

Cognitive: amnesia, inability to speak or understand, mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, difficulty thinking and understanding, inability to create new memories, or inability to recognize common things

Behavioral: abnormal laughing and crying, aggression, impulsivity, irritability, lack of restraint, or persistent repetition of words or actions

Whole body: balance disorder, blackout, dizziness, fainting, or fatigue

Mood: anger, anxiety, apathy, or loneliness

Eyes: dilated pupil, raccoon eyes, or unequal pupils

Gastrointestinal: nausea or vomiting

Sensory: sensitivity to light or sensitivity to sound

Speech: slurred speech or impaired voice

Also common: persistent headache, a temporary moment of clarity, bleeding, blurred vision, bone fracture, bruising, depression, loss of smell, nerve injury, post-traumatic seizure, ringing in the ears, or stiff muscles.

Source: CDC

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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