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Global traumatic brain injury rates could be six times higher than thought - study

A New Zealand study has shown that mild brain injury could be more prevalent than previously believed.

Image: Sebastian Kaulitzki via Shutterstock

THE WORLDWIDE INCIDENCE of traumatic brain injury could be six times higher than previously estimated, according to the first study to estimate rates globally.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when an external force such as a bump or blow to the head disrupts the normal function of the brain. Leading causes include falls, motor vehicle accidents, and assaults.

Researchers taking part in the BIONIC (Brain Injury Outcomes New Zealand In the Community) study examined multiple overlapping sources of data – such as public hospitals, family doctors, rehabilitation centres, coroner and autopsy records, rest homes, ambulance services, and prisons – in order to record all new cases of TBI that occurred over a one-year period (1 March 2010 to 28 February 2011) in an area (173,205 residents) representative of the New Zealand population in terms of demographic, ethnic, socioeconomic, and urban and rural structure.

Findings of study

The team’s findings, published Online First in The Lancet Neurology, found that rates of TBI were highest in children (0–14 years old) and younger adults (15–34 years old), accounting for almost 70 per cent of cases, far higher than the 40–60 per cent reported in previous studies.

The study also found that men were nearly twice as likely to have a mild TBI as women, and almost three times as likely to sustain a moderate or severe TBI. Maori people also fared worse than New Zealand Europeans, with a 23 per cent greater risk of mild TBI. The new figures indicated that people living in rural areas have more than twice the risk of moderate or severe TBI than those living in urban areas, mainly due to transport accidents, which was consistent with previous studies.

TBI is the leading cause of long-term disability among children and young adults and cost the USA alone an estimated $406 billion in 2000. The Lancet reports that TBI is projected to become the “third largest cause of disease burden worldwide by 2020″.

The first study to include more mild cases of TBI

The New Zealand population-based study found that rates of TBI (790/100 000 people per year), and particularly mild TBI (749/100 000), were far higher than in other high-income countries in Europe (47–453/100 000) and North America (51–618/100 000).

Lead researcher Professor Valery Feigin said the team’s estimates were the first to include more mild cases of TBI that are not usually treated in hospital and therefore are often overlooked in official estimates.

Feigin, who heads AUT University’s National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences in New Zealand, said it is the first study to show that 95 per cent of all TBI cases are mild and that the true annual incidence of mild TBI is substantially higher than recent World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates (100–300/100 000 people per year).

“Based on these findings, we estimate that some 54–60 million people worldwide sustain a TBI each year, of which some 2.2–3.6 million people incur moderate or severe TBI. This is almost six times higher than previous estimates and means that every second two people in the world are struck by a new TBI,” he said.

According to Feigin, “Our analysis raises some very important issues, in particular that healthcare policy and provision may be grossly inadequate for the huge and growing burden of TBI worldwide. More comparable population-based studies of TBI are urgently needed to inform effective treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation strategies.”

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Guinness World Record attempt in Ballincollig

Meanwhile, members of Ballincollig Community Forum are taking part in a Guinness World Record attempt this Saturday 24 November to raise funds for for two local charities – Headway and The Gunners.

Headway helps people living with aquired brain injuries and their carers through a range of services tailored to individual needs.

The Linking Hands project aims to gather the world’s largest collection of handprints together in one place in Ballincollig Shopping Centre between 10am and 4pm this Saturday.

The current record number of handprints in one place is 30,000.

“We are very excited about this,” said spokesperson Cathie O’Neill. “Every penny raised will go to two locally-based charities: The Gunners, a soccer club for kids with intellectual disabilities and Headway, the association for Acquired Brain Injury. We know how generous the people of Ballincollig are and we know how they like to have fun as a community so this is a chance to do both”.

Read: How did Gabrielle Giffords survive?
Read: High Court rules boy, 6, with brain injury should not be resuscitated

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