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Brain injury is a silent epidemic in our country.

A handful of years ago no one knew what "TBI" meant. Most people know that TBI means traumatic brain injury.

It wasn't until our brave soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan started returning from active duty and had difficulty adjusting that people started to take notice. Many of them looked the same and sounded the same but something was different.

There are 5.3 million Americans who live with a disability from a traumatic brain injury and there are another 4.7 million who struggle with challenges from a stroke. That's 10 million Americans with brain injury! That makes brain injury the second-most prevalent disability (after mood disorders) in our country.

Are you amazed by the numbers? That's nothing. There are another 1.6 million to 3.8 million who sustain concussions each year (a mild traumatic brain injury). Concussions were once thought to be minor bumps in the road but now more research is coming out showing that multiple concussions can lead to a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is similar to Alzheimer's disease. The NFL is quickly learning about this as those are all workers compensation injuries.

Sports concussions are also a huge concern in youth sports. If a child or teenager sustains a concussion, he or she should not return to play until being cleared by a medical professional. Keep in mind that youth are at very high risk of sustaining a subsequent concussion after receiving a first concussion.

It is important to understand that a brain injury affects more than a person's thinking -- it impacts all areas of a person's life. A brain injury will often cause anxiety and depression as well as leading to a lower self esteem. It can cause problems for a person at work and also in their independent living abilities.

Another important thing to understand about brain injury is that no one is immune. A brain injury ignores social status, political affiliation, education, race, age, etc. You can potentially suffer a stroke while reading this article (that doesn't mean this article causes strokes), you can have an aneurysin as you get up from wherever you are reading this. You can walk out to your car and slip and fall, hitting your head. You can be assaulted before you reach your car, or you can get in your car and be T boned. It can happen to anyone anytime.

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There are some things you can do to lower your risk of sustaining a brain injury. Always wear your seat belt. Wear a helmet when riding a bike, skiing, ice skating and any activity that helmets are available for. Eat healthy and exercise. Wear non slip shoes and walk carefully when it is icy.

It is also important to understand that there is always hope after a brain injury. Though the road to recovery can sometimes be very long, it has been scientifically proven that the brain can continue to heal and improve throughout a person's life -- it's not just a year or two years. In one very striking example, a person regained the ability to speak after 19 years!

Rehabilitation therapies and brain injury specific counseling are particularly important in the recovery process. Fortunately, Rapid City has a tremendous number of professionals who assist in brain injury rehabilitation.

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