©Arlene R. Taylor PhD

One would think that the criticality of protecting your brain from physical injury whenever possible would be self-evident, and yet it is amazing the number of people who appear not to think about head protection at all. Or who think about it only for a few very specific situations or for someone else. It is amazing how what seems like a rather small injury to the brain can end up causing permanent damage if not death. The news has carried stories of just such devastating incidents. Natasha Richardson’slittle fall on the ski slopes is a case in point.

Not long after Richardson’s death was announced, a young violinist was riding his bicycle. In the hospital later on, after having been struck by a hit-and-run driver, the young violinist allowed as how he was very lucky to be alive with seemingly few injuries. “Young man!” thundered the doctor who was examining him, “Give me one reason you were not wearing a helmet!”

“I-i-it isn’t macho,” the young man stuttered.

The doctor then launched into a discourse of how it was much better to be thought of as less macho than end up with a Parkinson’s-like syndrome because neuronal axons had been severed from a blow to the brain (as in the case of boxer Mohammad Ali), or drooling oblivious in a wheelchair (as the doctor put it).

The doctor had gotten the boy’s attention. The young violinist promised he would start wearing a helmet immediately so “I’ll still be playing with the symphony when I’m as old as you are.” The doctor laughed and they shook hands.  

Protect your brain insofar as it is possible to do so!

  • Wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle. Wear head protection when skiing, skating, skateboarding, parasailing, or any other similar activity.
  • Wear head protection when playing contact sports to prevent blows to the head which could break some of the neuronal axons and interfere with the transmission of information. Avoid heading when playing soccer. Howard reported studies of soccer players who had engaged in “heading” the ball. They performed less well on tests of mental flexibility, general IQ, visual searching, attention, and facial recognition. None of those outcomes are desirable.

For the same reason, never bang your head against a hard object, or even against your hands, when you’re upset or frustrated. And avoid pugilistic sports such as boxing and activities such as bungee jumping that could bang your brain tissue against your skull or result in a whip-lash type injury. There are plenty of other sports with which to become involved that have a lower risk for brain injury.

  • Always wear a seat belt in a vehicle. Getting thrown around the vehicle in an accident-situation, like a ping-pong ball at a tournament, is not an optimum way to take care of your brain.
  • Avoid situations that might involve fights or wrestling where you could be accidentally or inadvertently injured around your head.
  • Stay away from pesticides or other toxic materials. If you cannot avoid exposure, wear appropriate respirators to avoid inhaling toxic material or fumes, and appropriate skin coverings to minimize absorption through the skin.