Can Helmets Make the Difference? — Life & Death
As everyone heads outdoors for the summer to take advantage of the warm weather and to engage in recreational activities, protect the most important part of the human body – the head.
Traumatic brain injuries are disabling and, sometimes fatal. All it takes is a haphazard fall from a two-wheeler to cause a head wound, changing one’s life forever.
“Trauma to the brain can occur as a result of an impact, which can cause a concussion or open skull fracture, or a jarring motion, such as a quick turn or sudden stop,” according to an article by Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center titled “Helmet Safety: Keep a Lid On It.” “Even seemingly mild head injuries, where you don’t lose consciousness, can cause permanent behavioral and cognitive problems, such as memory loss, inability to concentrate, sleep disorders and, in some cases, permanent disability or death.”
Helmets are designed to absorb the shock of an impact with a hard surface, cushioning the skull and its precious contents. The role a helmet plays in preserving livelihoods cannot be stressed enough. Still, excuses for ditching them abound.
“It’s uncomfortable and hot”.
“It messes up my hair”.
“It isn’t cool”.
“I’m only going a short distance”.
“I’m not going to fall, so I don’t need one”.
According to the article, “These are a few of the reasons people give for not wearing a helmet while roller skating, inline skating, riding a bicycle, scooter or motorcycle, or engaging in other potentially risky outdoor activities. But according to James Young, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Rush University Medical Center and nationally recognized expert on traumatic brain injury, there are no valid excuses for not strapping on this vital piece of protective gear”.
Consumers must commit to wearing a helmet, and they must commit to wearing the right helmet. For example, a bicycle helmet should not be worn when riding a motorcycle.
“There are, in fact, different helmets for different activities, and each type of helmet is designed to protect your head from the impact common to a particular activity or sport,” the article states. “You should always wear a helmet that is appropriate for the activity you’re involved in because other types of helmets may not protect you adequately.”
To determine which helmet is the right helmet, refer to the safety standards printed by the manufacturer on the exterior surface or the inner lining of the helmet. The safety standards indicate the helmet was field tested to prevent fractures. Some safety standards are mandated by federal laws, such as bicycle and motorcycle helmets, while others are voluntary, such helmets for kayaking and rock climbing.
“Be sure to wear a helmet that is appropriate for the particular activity you’re involved in,” the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states in an article titled “It takes brains to be safe – Be smart and wear a helmet!” “Helmets designed for other activities may not protect your head as effectively.”
It also is essential that the helmet is properly fitted and is worn correctly. Many helmets have chin straps that, if not used render the helmet useless. How to tell whether the helmet is properly fitted? Comfort and snugness. It should sit level on the head with no downward or upward tilt – a sign it is too big.
“Once on your head, the helmet should not move in any direction, back-to-front or side-to-side,” according to the CPSC. “For helmets with a chin strap, be sure the chin strap is securely fastened so that the helmet doesn’t move or fall off during a fall or collision. If you buy a helmet for a child, bring the child with you so that the helmet can be tested for a good fit. Carefully examine the helmet and the accompanying instructions and safety literature.”
Here are some other tips from the CPSC when selecting a helmet:
Choose function over form. “Don’t choose style over safety. When choosing a helmet, avoid helmets that contain nonessential elements that protrude from the helmet…these may look interesting, but they may prevent the helmet’s smooth surface from sliding after a fall, which could lead to injury.”
Look for safety standards not brand names. “Don’t rely solely on the helmet’s name or appearance, or claims made on the packaging, to determine whether the helmet meets the appropriate requirements for your activity.”
Differentiate tools from toys. “Avoid novelty and toy helmets that are made only to look like the real thing; such helmets are not made to comply with any standard and can be expected to offer little or no protection.”