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Put our heads together and keep our brains safe
by Dr. Christopher Demers
Feb 05, 2012 | 1865 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Christopher Demers
Dr. Christopher Demers
Every five minutes, a person dies and another becomes permanently disabled due to a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. This year alone, about 1.7 million Americans will sustain a TBI. The fact is, the majority of these brain injuries are preventable.

As a brain and spine surgeon with many nights spent in the ER, I have seen far too many brain injuries that should never have happened.

Preventing brain injury

The most frequent causes are motor vehicle crashes, violence, falls, sports and recreation. Since we aren’t going to stop driving cars, doing sports and having fun outdoors, we must look at how to do these activities smarter and safer.

While certain activities do put us at higher risk of injuring our brains, the fact is falling from as little as two feet can cause TBI. That is why the proper use of safety equipment is so important. Other factors can also increase our risk of head injury, among them are gender and alcohol. Men suffer 78.8 percent of traumatic brain injuries and 33 to 50 percent of TBI victims were intoxicated at the time of injury.


Car accidents are one of the leading causes of head injury, so think every time you get behind the wheel.

• Make sure everyone in the car wears a seat belt every time.

• Drive a car with air bags.

• Keep children in back seats properly restrained.

• Stay focused on the most important thing: driving. Do not talk on a cell phone, text, adjust your iPod or reach for a tissue in the back seat while driving.

• Never drink and drive.

Snow sports

Flying down steep terrain filled with obstacles at excessive speed is inherently risky, so do your utmost to do these activities safely.

• Always wear an ASTM or Snell-approved helmet.

• When stopping on a ski slope make sure you are in a spot where others can see you.

• Always yield to downhill traffic when entering a slope.

• Know how to stop safely before you head out and gravity takes over.


Bike riding results in more visits to the emergency room for children age 5 to 14 than any other sport.

• 85 to 88 percent of critical head and brain injuries can be prevented through the use of a bicycle helmet. Both adults and children should always wear an ANSI, ASTM or Snell-approved helmet.

• Make sure drivers can see you. Wear bright clothing and ride with traffic (not against it). If riding at night, wear reflective clothing and equip your bike with reflectors and lights.

• Ride single file and follow traffic rules.

• Stay out of a cars’ blind spots, especially when the vehicle is making a turn.

Roller sports

Many parents who require their children to wear a helmet on a bike, don’t insist on it for other rolling sports, such as scooters, inline skates and skateboards. These activities present the same risks and can result in TBI.

• Always wear an ANSI, ASTM or Snell-approved helmet.

• Never “catch a ride” on another vehicle.

• Know how to stop and brake before you start to roll.

We cannot prevent every fall or protect our heads against every impact. However, with some common sense and a few ounces of prevention, we do have the power to reduce the occurrence of brain injury, and nothing would make me happier than seeing far fewer of you in the ER and on the operating room table.

For more tips on head injury prevention, visit and click on the “Education” tab.

Dr. Christopher Demers is a neurosurgeon with Sierra Neurosurgery Group, the region’s largest and oldest practice specializing in the care of the spine and brain. He received his medical degree from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and completed his internship and residency at Brown University Alpert Medical School in Rhode Island. Dr. Demers serves on the board of directors for ThinkFirst of Northern Nevada, a not-for-profit organization focused on improving brain and spine injury awareness and prevention. He is also the father of two active teenage boys.

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