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State issues dashboard as more Oregonians suffer brain injuries

Effort to raise awareness reflects increasing focus of public health research
June 4, 2024

Traumatic brain injuries are killing more Oregonians or causing them to seek emergency care, according to a new dashboard published by the Oregon Health Authority. 

The dashboard is intended to raise awareness of how common traumatic brain injuries are with the goal of preventing them and improving services. The new data shows that Oregonians across all age groups are dying from traumatic brain injuries, a condition that can be easily misunderstood. 

“A traumatic brain injury can often be an invisible injury,” Dagan Wright, a senior injury epidemiologist and informaticist in the health authority’s public health division, told Oggys Online in an interview. “It can be fully manageable when you have support, and the support might need to be there for years down the road depending on it. But the person can thrive.”

There were more than 1,200 fatal traumatic brain injuries in Oregon in 2022, a nearly 44% increase from 2010, the dashboard shows. Meanwhile, the number of emergency department visits related to traumatic brain injuries increased by nearly 3,000 between 2018 and 2022. 

Researchers in Oregon have been looking into traumatic brain injuries for over a decade funded by federal grants, Wright said. The dashboard was developed with open source coding, meaning that a local health department or community organization could put it to use, he said. 

“I think there’s a lack of awareness of how prevalent traumatic brain injury is in our society,” he said, adding that “traumatic brain injuries are preventable.”

In the future, the dashboard will include data on what’s driving traumatic brain injuries, Wright said. Generally speaking, it’s clear that traumatic brain injuries are caused from falls, assaults or transportation accidents, which he said are being made worse by people driving faster.  

The dashboard shows that men over the age of 65 have the highest rate of traumatic brain injury fatalities. Rural counties also have higher rates of death. Jefferson and Crook counties in rural central Oregon stood out for having the highest rate of emergency department visits in the state stemming from brain injuries, according to the dashboard. 

Finding out why these groups are suffering more traumatic brain injuries isn’t straightforward, Wright said. For instance, people accessed health services less during the pandemic and men over the age of 65 may have other complicating factors, he said. 

People in rural areas have to drive long distances or work more dangerous agricultural jobs, he said. But the number of people counted in these rural areas are sometimes so small it’s hard to pick out statistical trends, he said. 

“I think there’s a lot of factors at play that we need to ask more questions (about) and better understand, to be honest, I can’t say there's one thing.”

Wright said traumatic brain injuries are manageable and people with them can thrive, but need a variety of support services, especially those with moderate or severe conditions.

People who sustain a traumatic brain injury are at higher risk for a recurrence and are more likely to have mental or behavioral health needs, he said. 

Wright’s unit, which focuses on injury and violence prevention, is working with physicians, educators, researchers, lawyers, epidemiologists and school nurses to raise awareness about traumatic brain injuries, and to help students who need accommodations. One pilot program at a pediatric clinic in southern Oregon is helping connect children with traumatic brain injuries with their education service district to get accommodations. 

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via Twitter @jthomasreports