During the month of March, Brain Waves program volunteers trained in injury prevention visit Canadian elementary schools to deliver a fun-filled half-day neuroscience and brain safety presentation, which includes helmet fitting tips and Jello brains.
Knowing that you need to keep your child’s noggin safe is, well, a no-brainer. The real challenge is in teaching them how to guard against potentially devastating brain injuries, says a University of Alberta expert.
“Many brain injuries are preventable, but protecting children can be challenging,” said Melanie Morgan-Redshaw of the University of Alberta’s Injury Prevention Centre. “With kids, there is so much growth and development, what might be an appropriate activity for one child might not be for a sibling or a friend.”
Between 2011 and 2014, emergency rooms in Alberta hospitals diagnosed more than 1,000 children aged five to nine with traumatic brain injury. The number of children aged 10 to 14 was even higher, at 2,300 injuries per year, Morgan-Redshaw said.
Head injuries can carry a high cost. Long-term effects can include loss of vision, hearing, balance, and fine and gross motor skills, which can range from simple actions like capping a pen to being able to walk.
Striking a balance between activity and risk is key.
“We want children to lead active, healthy lives, but we also want to stop life-altering brain injuries,” said Morgan-Redshaw.
To help do that, teams of U of A volunteers visit local schools during March, which is National Brain Awareness Month in Canada, to give youngsters a head-start on preventing brain injuries.
Volunteers—armed with pink gelatin ‘brains’ for hands-on instruction in just how fragile this organ is—talk with Grades 4 to 6 students about Brain Waves, a program that explains brain injury. “This gives kids and their teachers the opportunity to have a conversation about injury prevention and some vocabulary to go with it.”
Morgan-Redshaw offers these tips on how kids can stay brain-safe while being active:
Wear the gear
Make sure helmets are used when suiting up for activities like hockey, snowboarding, skiing, biking and skateboarding. Forty per cent of head injuries in children aged 10 to 19 happen during sports, according to Parachute, a national injury prevention organization that launched Brain Waves. Helmets help protect the skull, which is only one centimetre thick, by absorbing the force of crashes and falls. Be sure to pick the right helmet for the sport.
Also, Morgan-Redshaw warned, pay attention to where helmets should not be worn—namely on the playground, where they can get wedged in equipment. Scarves should also be removed before playtime.
After pulling on the helmets, boots and clothing, check to see that everything is secured. “That means buckles and straps are done up, clothing is fastened correctly and fits properly.” Helmets should be fitted using the 2V1 rule.
Pre-planning for activities helps reduce the risk of injury, said Morgan-Redshaw. “Make good decisions before you take on risk. Does your child have the fitness level for the sport? Are they able to do the activity safely? If they need lessons before they go on a ski hill, take lessons. If they are beginning cyclists, make sure they bike away from traffic and people the first time out.”
“Children need to pay attention to their surroundings in whatever activity they are doing. A lot of it is just common sense, but in the moment, it is information we need.” This applies to everything from sharing bicycle paths to using a crosswalk safely.
For teens, this obviously applies to being behind the wheel, but there are ways for younger children to steer clear of trouble, including putting earbuds away when skiing, skateboarding or biking. “Don’t be distracted. You lose track of the world outside and you may not hear a warning shout or be aware of an obstacle.”