Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death in children. A recent study found everyday consumer products could be leading to higher rates of non-fatal traumatic brain injuries (T.B.I.) in children. Published in the medical journal Brain Injury at the end of July, the study found that over four million pediatric T.B.I.s reported in the United States between 2010 to 2013 were linked to consumer products as a cause of injury, more than 72 percent of all non-fatal T.B.I.s.
According to an article published by the International Business Times (I.B.T.) analyzing the results of the study, the breakdown of injuries based on age was as follows:
- 1,085,680 T.B.I.s in children ages 1 to 4
- 682,826 T.B.I.s in children ages 5 to 9
- 834,565 T.B.I.s in children ages 10 to 14
- 1,107,463 T.B.I.s in children ages 15 to 19
Predictably, sports and outdoor recreational activities such as bicycling were linked to T.B.I.s in older children and teens. Certain sports, such as basketball, football, and soccer, are known for leading to rough play and injuries from time to time.
The most surprising aspect of the study was the cause of injuries to smaller children. Over 70 percent of brain injuries in infants and 60 percent of brain injuries in children ages one to four sustained a T.B.I. from products such as furniture, flooring, beds, home fixtures, and even construction materials and home structures.
Terrifying as the study is for parents across the country, low-income families are most at risk for injuries when it comes to consumer products. The study states that “individuals from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience T.B.I.s,” and that the recovery outcomes of severe brain injuries are often poor.
Unfortunately, this trend stems from the fact that low-income families are constantly faced with the unfair choice of safe housing or affordable housing. Crumbling apartments, poorly maintained buildings, and negligent ‘slum lord’ premise owners put disadvantaged children at higher risks of sustaining a T.B.I. than families who can afford to make improvements and safe additions to their home. Low-income families are also less likely to be able to afford access to the recommended treatments and resources after a T.B.I., putting them behind in recovery before they even begin.
Baltimore families in low-income neighborhoods must be aware of the dangers their home can pose to children. By learning which conditions can cause T.B.I.s and how these injuries lead to debilitating consequences, residents can be better prepared to prevent unintentional injuries and stand up for their rights to safe housing.
Low-Income Hazards That Lead To Brain Injuries
The researchers of the T.B.I. study were honest in reporting their limitations in examining how T.B.I.s vary in children across socioeconomic statuses. However, based on past research on pediatric T.B.I.s in low-income communities, experts predict a large number of the reported cases were most likely underprivileged children.
Another study published by the National Institute of Health researchers found that children of low socioeconomic status are at an increased risk of poor health, injuries, and death due to their living conditions. Compared with children who are of a higher socioeconomic status, disadvantaged children have higher rates of hospitalizations for injuries sustained from accidents such as:
- house fires
- traffic accidents
- bicycle accidents
- sports injuries
The scientists performing the T.B.I. study provided the following safety measures to help decrease brain injuries caused by consumer products:
- Improve home lighting.
- Remove tripping hazards (e.g., rugs).
- Avoid playgrounds with hard surfaces.
- Utilize home safety devices (e.g., gates and handrails)
For families who own their own home or have the resources available to make these changes, these are simple improvements. But low-income families who rely on landlords and building owners of affordable housing complexes do not have the same luxury.
Sadly, the majority of Baltimore affordable housing buildings lack basic safety standards. According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, affordable housing with running hot and cold water, safe electrical systems, functioning toilets, and working smoke detectors are hard to come by in Baltimore. These are standards that individuals of higher socioeconomic status typically do not have to worry about.
In addition to poor habitual conditions, low-income Baltimore children struggle to find safe products they can afford. Disadvantaged families spend more than half of their income on rent, utilities, and food, leaving very little money for new furniture, child products, or home improvements.
Researchers of the T.B.I. study identified categories of consumer products that increase a child’s risk for sustaining a brain injury and listed them as: sports and recreation, home furnishings and fixtures, home structures and construction materials, child nursery equipment, toys, personal products, and home electronics. Low-income children in affordable housing are more likely to be exposed to older, less safe, less advanced, or broken versions of these products, which could factor into their higher T.B.I. rates.
Home Structures and Construction Materials
More than 17 percent of all T.B.I.s reported were caused by home structures and construction materials. Broken stairs, cracked floors, caved-in ceilings, and damaged walls are all frequently present in low-income housing and pose a significant risk to children.
Maintenance on these buildings is often delayed. So, low-income families find themselves maneuvering around unfinished construction projects. Projects can be stalled for months, or even years, leaving plenty of opportunities for children to become injured.
Home Furnishings and Fixtures
The furniture and home furnishings low-income families are provided or able to afford are not always safe. They account for 17.2 percent of pediatric T.B.I.s. Unsafe beds, tables, lamps, and chairs have all been linked to injuries in disadvantaged children. These products may not always be in the best of shape; having sharp corners, broken legs, chipped finishing, faulty wiring, or vintage designs that have proven to be dangerous.
Beds were found to be the highest cause of T.B.I. among infants and children under four-years-old. Bunk beds, used to save space and money, are one of the most consistent causes of brain injuries.
Nursery Items and Toys
Low-income families are often forced to use hand-me-down baby and child products. These pose safety risks due to wear and tear or outdated and unsafe designs. For example, a child placed in an old car seat with little or worn-down head protection can be at risk of serious brain injuries in the case of a car accident, where the child’s head bounces off the hard plastic rather than a head cushion.
Recently, a number of low-income daycare centers and families around the country faced a huge backlash from parents who noticed they were still using the recently recalled Fisher Price Rock-and-Plays. However, the affordability of these items and their compact size for smaller homes make these products an ideal bed for families who have little money.
Sports and Recreation
Nearly 30 percent of T.B.I.s in children are caused by sports and recreational activities. Children living in low-income neighborhoods have shown higher rates of injuries when participating in sports and play activities for several reasons: (1) disadvantaged children tend to play higher contact sports, such as basketball, soccer, and football; (2) unsafe/unmaintained inner-city playground equipment; (3) concrete covered inner-city playgrounds; and (4) a lack of adequate funds to purchase proper safety equipment.
How to safely raise children and avoid dangerous consumer products is not common knowledge. Educational opportunities and resources are required.
Families on the mid to higher end of the socioeconomic ladder generally have more access to resources and positive role-modeling than low-income families. These parents learn about and can afford upgraded baby products or home safety gadgets that decrease a child’s risk of injury. They also may not have to worry about risks such as broken stairs, railings, or furniture that can harm children depending on how recently their home was updated.
Low-income families do not have the same exposure to basic safety education. The products in their homes are the ones they can afford, which are not always up to safety code. The day-to-day stresses for these families revolve around making enough income to put food on the table and a roof over their head, similar to their neighbors and friends. Low-income families love and care for their children just as any other parents, but their safety focus is more likely to be on keeping their children safe on the streets and in the community than preventing accidents in their own home.
Why TBIs Are So Dangerous For Kids
Traumatic brain injuries can cause severe impairments at any age. Pediatric T.B.I.s can be especially traumatic. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, if a child sustains a T.B.I. while their brain is in the middle of development, the symptoms can change and reveal themselves over time. This makes diagnosis and treatment more difficult, and the consequences more severe.
T.B.I. symptoms in children can be hard to pinpoint, especially with infants and toddlers. Some of the signs parents should watch for are:
- motor coordination
- paresis or paralysis
- spasticity of muscles
- balance concerns
- slowness of thinking
- short term memory deficits
- imparted concentration
- limited attention span
- communication skills
- impairments of perception
- difficulty controlling emotions
- lack of motivation
- lowered self-esteem
- mood swings
The delayed symptoms of pediatric brain injuries can create a lifetime of challenges for children and families. A child could experience ongoing symptoms for years before the true deficits are identified. It usually takes an experienced team of doctors and therapists to help children with these terrible injuries have a productive, meaningful and happy life. The first order of business for every parent is to know the risks. Then, do everything possible to avoid them. However, if there is an accident and a child is injured, parents need to ensure they get the right medical and legal professionals to help.
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