NDEAM: Brain Injury Survivors Adapt, Businesses Must Too

Employment has the ability to make you feel like a contributing member of society; the right job has the ability to make you feel generally happy.  Because of the importance of employment for all people, including those with disabilities, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is recognized in October.  However, for about 60 percent of those who acquire a brain injury, starting or returning to work does not occur.  For a variety of reasons, they remain unemployed, a status that promotes such things as depression, already a symptom of brain injury.

The government recognizes this issue, as, if nothing else, it results in fewer taxes paid and more government monetary benefits provided.  Perhaps because of this, but most likely not wholly for this reason, they have funded multiple studies related to employment following brain injury.  After years of study that seem to have concentrated on the neurological and medical difficulty of returning to work for individuals after a brain injury, in 2016 the NIH focused on the employers and completed a study that concluded, “stigma and discrimination in mental health conditions may have an impact on expectations of RTW [return to work], and on RTW outcomes.

Since this discovery from the NIH, which may be all too obvious to many brain injury survivors, government study has continued.  However, from what I can determine, these new studies again focus on the capabilities of those with brain injury, not on the behavior and practices of employers.  In a small 2017 study entitled Opportunities and barriers for successful return to work after acquired brain injury: a patient perspective, “the aim was to increase knowledge of opportunities and barriers for a successful return to work in patients with [acquired brain injury].”  It focused on the need for individually adapted rehabilitation, survivor motivation to return to work and the survivor’s cognitive and social abilities.

Again looking at the abilities of the survivor/jobseeker, this time through medical scans and evaluation, recently a government-funded study by the Kessler Foundation was published: Impact of frontal neurobehavioral symptoms on employment individuals with TBI.  The frontal lobes of the brain are the short-term memory storage sites, direct the motor area [voluntary movement], allow the brain to transfer thoughts into words, among other important things.  “Our results indicate that frontal neurobehavioral symptoms may be predictive of the ability to achieve and maintain employment after TBI… Developing rehabilitative strategies that address these behaviors could improve employment outcomes.”  While Kessler’s conclusion may be important, taking action on the 2016 NIH findings seems just as, if not more, important.  The opportunity for meaningful employment must be there before someone can determine if they are capable of pursuing it.

(The above picture is the official Department of Labor poster for 2018 NDEAM.)

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Yoga Stretches Your Legs to Strengthen Your Mind

It is widely known that, as remarked on by the NIH, “Exercise-based therapies can promote recovery of function and are easily implemented in the clinical rehabilitation setting.”  Since at least the turn of this century, the government has been studying the benefits of a certain type of exercise, yoga, within various segments of the population.  In September, federally-sanctioned National Yoga Awareness Month, one should look at the specific benefits of yoga for those who have suffered a brain injury.

Though there are benefits from the practice of yoga for all individuals, the above-quote comes from a current NIH study regarding the energizing effects of exercise for those with brain injuries.  That study is not set to end until 2022, however the researchers have already discovered, “Very early [post-brain injury] exercise seems to exacerbate brain injury, while later exercise seems to be beneficial.”  (The NIH does not state how one is to determine the appropriate time in one’s recovery to restart it.) Further governmental information is limited as, in a 2012 article titled The therapeutic value of yoga in neurological disorder, the NIH stated that the benefits of exercise for those with many neurological disorders is a “largely unexamined treatment”.

In the meantime, there are known benefits of yoga for the general population, including enhancing one’s quality of life and wellbeing, and benefits specifically for the brain injured/disabled population, such benefits as: strengthening muscle, increasing flexibility, increasing endurance, coping with setbacks, calming an active mind.  Previously-mentioned Former Rep. Gabby Giffords has remarked that her recovery from brain injury has been though, “Speech therapy. Physical therapy.  And YOGA, too.”

As the government states, “The purpose of this month is to promote the health and benefits of yoga and inspire a healthy lifestyle.”  In celebration, many yoga studios and gyms are offering free yoga classes this month.  Yoga can also be accessed through your television, computer and smart phone.

(However, if you do not begin to exercise or do not continue with your exercise/yoga schedule, do not fret.  Few people, with a TBI or not, adhere entirely to their workout schedules.  Additionally, the NIH found that, “Injury severity, age and pre-injury exercise history predict adherence to a home-based exercise program in adults with traumatic brain injury.”)

The Importance of PLAY(S)

Children generally have more physical energy than their adult counterparts. As a consequence, many participate in youth sports leagues, which not only provide physical activity, but also teach them to work effectively with their peers.  Last year, Senator Capito (WV) proposed Senate Resolution 227 which marked July 16 – 22 as National Youth Sports Week.  According to the bill, the week is, “a celebration of youth sports participation and all of the benefits youth derive from engagement in sports.”

In 2018, “[this] week… thousands of youth sports coaches, athletic directors, recreation directors, association members, sponsors, young athletes, and parents across the country show their support focusing on P.L.A.Y.S. ~ Physical activity, Living healthy, Access, Youth development, Safety.”  While having access to the physical activity and youth development provided by sports, which is a key part of healthy living, is important, the S (safety) should always be included in the celebration.

***The bones of children are still in development and, therefore, weaker.  Additionally, the coating of myelin, neuron fibers, in the brain of youth is still in development.  Because of this, physical injury, including skull injury, is more common and more severe in children, than in adults.  Particularly this can be found in sports, most notably in youth football, youth hockey and youth soccer, but the risk is present in all sports.  (For example, this month, the CDC published an article that identifies brain infection/injury as a rare, but possible result of fresh water swimming.)  Additionally, beyond physical safety, sports may affect the brain psychologically, but this affect can also be positive.  New Jersey, among other states, has a youth sports concussion law, “to help reduce the risk of student-athletes suffering concussion, and its long-term consequences.”  Included as a possible long-tern consequence is a traumatic brain injury.

May is… National Stroke Awareness Month. Join the conversation!

A stroke, the stop of blood flow to the brain, is a common brain injury: occurring every 40 seconds in America.  While strokes are more common in the 65+ age range, they can happen to anyone and at any time.  By Presidential Proclamation, National Stroke Awareness Month has been recognized in May since 1989, as a time to explain the symptoms of stroke, which requires immediate medical help, and to highlight ways of stroke prevention.

“In observance of National Stroke Awareness Month, NINDS (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke), Million Hearts, American Academy of Neurology (AAN), and the American Stroke Association are co-hosting a Twitter chat to discuss stroke risk factors, the importance of keeping your brain healthy, and the latest stroke research. #BrainforLife will take place Wednesday, May 2, from 1-2 p.m. ET.  Medical experts, including NINDS Director Dr. Walter Koroshetz and AAN President Dr. Ralph L. Sacco, will be on hand to answer questions.”

Brain Injury Awareness Month Across the Country: State Recognition

Brain injury has been an ongoing issue in America since its founding.  Though federally honored, BIAM is still finding legislative recognition on the state level.  For example, House Resolution 741 (HR 741), introduced by Pennsylvania’s Tina Pickett, was only introduced earlier this month and adopted (188-0) on March 14.  A similar bill will soon be voted on in the PA Senate.  (Though this marks the official recognition of the Month, the State has honored and provided education on brain injury at least since 2011.)  In 2013, New Jersey officially recognized it as a month-long state observance, whereas legislators in Alaska were relatively early adopters, passing a law to recognize the Month back in the 2007 – 2008 Congressional year.  (Some states still do not officially note Brain Injury Awareness Month.  However, groups in these states, such as the BIAA, do provide events specifically designed for the Month.)

As for events, New York State, in Tonawanda, located near Niagara Falls, lights the City Hall blue for the entire month to show solidarity and the need for public education on brain injury.  (Blue is the official color of Brain Injury Awareness Month, as designated by the Brain Injury Association of America.) On Brian Injury Advocacy Day, March 20, survivors/advocates met with members of the New York State Legislature to thank legislators for what they have done thus far and to teach them about the impact of brain injury, including how they can further help prevent it, as well as support those with brain injury.  While some legislators may have been tempted by the promise of pie, Kansas legislators and lawmakers met at the Topeka State House on March 21 to learn more about brain injury.  The Nebraska Brain Injury Advisory Council, which is sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Education, launched a mobile-responsive website that, “presents resources and reference information for anyone affected to assist in navigating for the best possible outcome.”

The above is just a short representation of activities throughout the country related to Brain Injury Awareness Month.  Please search online to find more past and upcoming local events.

Brain Injury Awareness Month Across the Country: Capitol Hill

Brain injury affects America as a whole, and its importance should be recognized on Capitol Hill.  As part of this national recognition, on March 5, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders introduced Retired Marine Corps Sergeant John Peck to the press.   Peck’s story is remarkable and therefore must be noted in its entirety: “Sergeant Peck suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq during his first tour of duty.  Then, after two years of therapy, he re-enlisted and deployed to Afghanistan.  While there, he stepped on an IED and lost both arms and legs.  He spent two years at Walter Reed, and in 2016 received a double arm transplant.  He is now doing physical and occupational therapy at Walter Reed, and doing incredibly well.”

Earlier this week, our legislators further honored brain injured Americans at Brain Injury Awareness Day, which is always honored on Capitol Hill during Brain Injury Awareness Month.  Generally, from what I can determine, the day is simply associated with Brain Injury Awareness Month and, therefore, in March.  However, Brain Injury Awareness Day is not honored on a specific calendar day.  (For example, in 2017 it was on Wednesday, March 22.  This year it was on March 20.)  The point of the day, though, is unchanging: to increase knowledge and awareness of brain injury with our elected officials.

As noted in an earlier article, the theme of 2018 Brain Injury Awareness Month is Change Your MindScheduled by the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, co-chaired by Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ) and Thomas J. Rooney (FL), the events this past Tuesday were a Brain Injury Awareness fair, a Congressional briefing and a reception celebrating Brain Injury Awareness Month.

When I can find the audio of the Capitol Hill Congressional briefing, I will post it on this site.  Additionally, as I find state events honoring the month, I will post them.

2018 Brain Injury Awareness Month

This month, March 2018, Americans recognize Brain Injury Awareness Month.  The theme for this year, through 2020, is Change Your Mind.  The significance of this theme is to show the ongoing public awareness campaign to provide, “a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injury and the needs of people with brain injuries and their families.”  Many posters and webpages note the statistics, commonality and horror of brain injury in the United States.  Yes, as the Brain Injury Association of America notes, “Brain injury changes the way you think, act, move and feel.”  However, in some ways, for the better.  In this sense, part of what the BIAA is seeking to do is de-stigmatization.  (The theme for 2015 to 2017, #NotAlone, is still very apropos.) Search on Twitter or use the hangtags #ChangeYourMind, #BrainInjuryAwarenessMonth or simply #braininjury.

Note: From what I can find, Brain Injury Awareness Month is not a federally designated month.  However, “the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Brain Injury Association of America recognize March as Brain Injury Awareness month to increase awareness of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).”  Additionally, the month has been legally designated by many states.  New Jersey, for example, signed into law Section 36:2-87, to mark March as Brain Injury Awareness Month, in 2013.

#GivingTuesday

What do you do with all the cash you saved on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?  Well, 6 years ago #GivingTuesday was officially introduced.  (The hashtag in the name is a clear indication that the global day of giving was instigated on social media and peoples’ desire to help.)  On the day’s website, one can find most of the charities/non-profits in their area.  Though all the listed charities/non-profits are well-deserving of support, specifically related to brain injury, there are links to the Brain Injury Alliances in various states and other charities, nonprofits and hospitals that help the brain injured.  (One foundation that is not found in the search, but is well-worth donated to, especially for those residing in the North New Jersey area, is the Kessler Foundation.)

November 11th – Veterans Day

November 11 is a day to celebrate and honor the millions of Americans, of all races and genders, who served this country with honor as veterans of the US military – today is Veterans Day!  It is time to recognize the veterans who are living with the “signature wound” of more recent wars: traumatic brain injury and often the co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder.  These men and women fight on the battlefield for the citizens of the United States and now fight for their health and/or equality back at home.  (Visit the articles links or click the Government/Military link on the right side of this page to find more information about veterans and TBI.)

“Inclusion Drives Innovation” Throughout America

In addition to the President, “26 governors have joined together to show their support [for employment of disabled workers] through public proclamations, executive orders and press statements.”  Brain injury is a non-partisan issue that affects individuals from all states.  Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) noted the importance of informing the public of the skills of the disabled population this month because, “people with disabilities offer a wide range of expertise and play an integral role in our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy.” (Read to view Arkansas’ NDEAM events.)  Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) released a video to explain to his constituents the importance of the month, saying that, “our businesses and communities can greatly benefit from the integrated, competitive employment of persons with disabilities.”

Even in states that do not officially recognize NDEAM with government-sanctioned events, they still inform their citizens of brain injury and celebrate the contributions of brain injury survivors.  The Kessler Foundation in East Hanover, NJ, for example, awarded a $265,743 Grant to the University of New Hampshire on October 10, 2017, to conduct, “the first national survey to look at the effectiveness of the practices that employers use to recruit, hire, train, and retain people with disabilities in their organizations, from the unique perspective of supervisors of employees with and without disabilities.”  The article 26 Governors Celebrate Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, from which the opening quote in this article is taken, may not have it listed as a state that is honoring NDEAM, but the California Department of Rehabilitation had an open house on October 18, 2017 to inform employers on, “the various ways to create a diverse workforce that includes persons with disabilities.”