Once upon a time, it was believed that 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries each year in the United States.
Turns out, the numbers are low. We know they’re low — partly because we know reporting is low, and partly because awareness is low, and partly because we’re still learning how to reliably collect the numbers.
Now the number is 2.5, and that’s low. It’s also not worldwide — which is in more of the 10 million+ range.
European countries are better at adding things up — there’s some great research coming out of Sweden on long-term follow-up of mild TBI survivors. Of course, it helps if you’re in a first world country with advanced healthcare infrastructure. Collecting data from villages and towns across rural, war-torn, and otherwise unstable developing regions isn’t the easiest task.
According to the World Health Organization, by the year 2020, TBI will surpass many diseases as the major cause of death and disability. An estimated 10 million people are affected annually by TBI across the globe, and the impact to society, in terms of death and consequent illness, qualifies TBI as an urgent public health and medical problem. This is true especially in developing countries, which not only have higher risks for getting hit in the head, but also lack developed healthcare systems able to address the resulting problems. Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa’s TBI-related incidence rate ranges from 150-170 per 100,000 respectively, while globally the rate is 106 per 100,000.
Measuring statistics globally is tricky, as countries vary in the ways they report – if folks report at all. Gathering reliable statistics in developing countries where towns and villages can be far removed from modern healthcare, and getting hit on the head that can happen while going about your daily work in the fields or doing manual labor. Not everyone has A) the time and opportunity to stop what they’re doing and go get help, or B) the medical resources available to help them (and report to). There are cultural considerations – stigma about drawing attention to yourself if you’re hurt… economic considerations – not everyone can just stop working to go to the doctor and recover… social considerations – getting clunked on the head may be a common experience for your immediate social circle, so “making a big deal out of it” might not be an option for you, if you want to stay connected with others.
Statistically speaking, some say the global reporting numbers are way off, and that Worldwide incidence of traumatic brain injury could be six times higher than previous estimates. A study of TBI incidence in New Zealand between March 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011, showed “[i]ncidence of moderate to severe TBI in the rural population . . . was almost 2.5 times greater than in the urban population.”
Bottom line is, TBI isn’t just an American problem. It’s a global problem that affects tens of millions of individuals worldwide – possibly more.
Here’s hoping that people will start paying real attention to this problem. Because it is one. And even those with “mild” injuries can suffer greatly, for no apparent “good” reason.
This is the thing that makes me a little nuts — and that drives my work and blogging. According to testing as well as other established markers, a lot of us “should” be fine. But we’re not. And it’s not all in our heads. We have genuine issues that aren’t being addressed — medically, socially, logistically, and so forth. We “test fine” … but we still suffer. And it’s NOT because we’re faking it or trying to get attention. There is literally something up with us.
We just don’t always know what it is. And standardized testing is of limited use — especially because it can blind folks to the underlying, subjective, unquantifiable issues that dog us and make our lives miserable. The misery comes not only from the issues, but also our inability to make sense of them in the context of our everyday lives.
Numbers don’t lie. But they also don’t tell the whole truth. And the missing pieces really kill our quality of life, as we struggle to A) understand our situation, B) make others aware of what we’re dealing with, and C) just live our lives as best we can.
So, that being said, I’m going to go back to researching and writing my book. The day is waiting, and I’ve got a lot of work to do in the coming weeks and months. I know I need to pace myself… and after traveling a lot and dealing with intense family issues over the past two weekends, I’m ready to get back to my regular life, do some yardwork, stretch my legs and arms and back, and settle into an ordinary routine again.