Alaska Has Among Highest Brain Injury Rates in Nation

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska has one of the highest incidences of brain injuries in the nation – more than 10,000 Alaskans live with a life-long disability resulting from a brain injury.

Dr. Harvey Jacobs, a national expert on brain injuries.  He’s in Anchorage this week to share information at the Alaska Brain Injury Conference.  Dr. Jacobs says the consequences of a brain injury can be devastating

He says anyone can be susceptible to such an injury. Falls, vehicle accidents and physical assaults are the most common causes, and all age groups are vulnerable.   Dr. Jacobs says prevention is the key

He says wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets is essential to protect the brain.  A good investment, he says, considering the jello-like brain can be  injured even by a mild blow.   According to Center For Disease Control data, the financial losses due to brain injuries in our society could be $100 billion a year in costs of care and lost economic opportunities.  There are 1.7 million brain injured people in the US, and 80,000 to 100,000 of them  have permanent disabilities.

Jill Hodges, executive director of the Alaska Brain Injury Network, says the Bethel area has the highest incidence of brain injuries in the state. 800 Alaskans are hospitalized each year with moderate to severe brain injuries. 650 of those survive

Males aged 16 – 24 are at the highest risk, but infants are at risk, too, because of shaken baby syndrome.  She says a lot of work has to be done to convince bush snowmachiners and four wheelers to wear head protection.  She says the state and the Alaska Native Health Consortium have made some efforts in this direction.  Hodges says in rural Alaska, CT scans are rare, so most injured rural residents are medevaced to Anchorage or Seattle for acute care, but on return to the village, the state and the regional behavioral health service become the primary caregivers.  Hodges says there is no single rehabilitative care center in Alaska, but progress is being made in that direction.

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