Head injuries can result in damage to the most important part of the central nervous system – the brain – and can irrefutably impact on one’s health, well-being and ability to work. With World Head Injury Awareness Day on 20 March, South Africans are reminded to be mindful of how to reduce these accidents, and how subsequent brain injuries, even minor, can affect quality of life.
In South Africa, an estimate of 89 000 cases of new traumatic brain injuries are reported every year, with research showing that 50% of head injuries are due to motor vehicle, bicycle, or vehicle-pedestrian accidents – double, that of the global rate. Given the country’s high accident rate, amongst – the highest in the world  – it’s crucial for South Africans to plan accordingly in the event of a worst case scenario.
According to a report by the Kwazulu Natal Department of Health, individuals between the ages of 15 and 40 years, as well as individuals at extremes of age less than 5 years and older than 75 years, are more likely to suffer a brain injury from an accident.
These statistics show that not only are the most vulnerable – namely young children and elderly citizens – prone to brain injury, but also individuals who are likely breadwinners to a family, making the impacts of these accidents far reaching.
Jaco Gouws, Product Head of Protection Solutions at Old Mutual, says: “Head injury can interfere with an individual’s ability to control emotions and interact socially, disrupting the brains’ ability to store, process, accumulate and retrieve information. In some cases, weeks of counselling, occupational therapy and speech therapy is needed to prevent permanent physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities, and enable victims of head injuries to return back to work.
“While having a good medical aid is your first line of defence; not even the best medical aid will cover all the related costs associated with the long and arduous costs of recovery from a serious brain injury, and as such, South Africans need to ensure they have measures in place to protect themselves.”
He adds that victims of serious brain injuries, who are also breadwinners, often leave their families at great financial risk when they can no longer earn an income. “If victims are unable to afford the costs of recovery, the family – who are often not equipped to cope with the complex and potentially long-term disabilities that accompany brain injury – are forced to carry the burden of care and rehabilitation.”
Gouws highlights the importance of having Disability Cover in place. “Disability Cover will help protect your ability to earn an income if you can’t do your job or normal day-to-day activities due to a brain injury. You can choose to either receive a monthly income, a lump sum, or a combination of the two.”
Often there is an attitude that a life changing event will happen to someone else, but in reality, everyone faces moments daily that can change their lives, and as such South Africans should be reminded to plan for such possibilities.
“Adequate risk protection in a financial plan is needed to minimise the devastating impacts of injuries, and to provide peace of mind to families. Don’t let now become later. We encourage all South Africans to speak to an accredited financial adviser about their personal circumstances and how they should be planning for their future in terms of life, income protection and disability cover,” concludes Gouws.