From paper boys hustling through their paper routes at the crack of dawn to families taking a Sunday afternoon cruise through the neighborhood, bike riding is one of America’s favorite past times. But every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26,000 bicycle-related injuries to children and adolescents result in traumatic brain injuries.

“A brain injury suffered by a child has a more devastating impact than the same severity of brain injury suffered by an adult,” says Dr. Juan Asuaje, Medical Director of Weslaco Regional Rehabilitation Hospital.

“Unlike an adult’s brain, a child’s brain is continuously undergoing development, so it’s more susceptible to injury. The brain develops rapidly during the first five years of life and continues to mature late into adolescent years. When a child experiences a brain injury, it can alter, or even halt, certain developments of the brain. A lot of times, however, the effects of a brain injury suffered by a child don’t become apparent until later in life when more critical thinking and social interaction is required.”

Defined by the Brain Injury Association of America, a brain injury is any disruption of the normal function of the brain, usually caused by a blow or jolt to the head. The most common brain injury, especially in children, is a concussion.

 

SYMPTOMS OF A CONCUSSION MAY INCLUDE:

• Difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, or remembering things

• Feeling “slowed down,” tired, having no energy

• Blurry vision

• Headaches

• Nausea or vomiting (close to when the injury occurs)

• Dizziness and balance problems

• Sensitivity to light

• Irritability, sadness, nervousness, or in general, more emotional than usual

• Change in sleeping habits – more or less than usual, or having trouble falling asleep

 

If you suspect your child has a concussion, contact your physician and give him or her plenty of rest. “A concussion causes torn or stretched brain cells that need the body’s energy to heal. So, rest is essential,” Asuaje says. “Beyond rest, the most beneficial treatment of a concussion is to slowly reintroduce simple physical and cognitive activities into your child’s life with the help of a healthcare professional.”

 

1. Properly Fitted Helmet – wearing a properly fitted helmet every time you and your child ride a bike is the main way to prevent brain injury.

2. Follow the Rules of the Road – by teaching your child to go with the flow of traffic on the right-side of the road, what hand signals to use and when, and what the different traffic signs and signals mean can help your child stay safe.

3. Reflectors – attach a front headlight and a rear red reflector to your child’s bike. If your child is riding beyond daylight hours, have him or her wear reflective clothing, as well.

 

“If your child doesn’t want to wear a helmet, try to figure out why,” Asuaje says. “He or she may be uncomfortable with the helmet because of its size, unattractiveness, or if it’s too hot. If so, find a helmet that your child is comfortable wearing.”

 

“Be a role-model to your child,” Asuaje continues. “Go biking as a family and practice biking skills and safety together. Wear your properly fitted helmet, follow the rules of the road, and attach reflectors to your own bike so that your child can witness biking safety first-hand. By using these safety precautions, you can help prevent brain injuries in not only your child, but yourself, as well.”