A high rate of road accidents in the UAE has led to a “silent epidemic” of brain injuries.
There is at least one death every day on average and many more people are severely injured, leaving many with neurological problems.
Dr Khaled Anwar, a consultant with specialist rehab hospital operator Amana Healthcare, told The National that about 70 per cent of all traumatic brain injuries are caused by road crashes.
Nationwide figures show 470 people were killed in 2018 - though that was down from 725 road deaths in 2016. In addition, 3,712 serious road accidents were recorded in 2018, leaving many badly injured.
"There is not a lot of data available regarding the incidence of traumatic brain injury, but the limited data available suggests road accidents are the major cause," said Dr Anwar, who works at Amana's long-term rehabilitation hospital in Abu Dhabi's Khalifa City.
"It is therefore recommended that compulsory seat belt usage and helmet usage by cyclists and motorcyclists should be strictly enforced."
Brain injuries can result in concussion to brain damage and can worsen rapidly without treatment.
Such patients need intensive therapy and rehabilitation to cope with complications that can affect everyday activities.
“A traumatic brain injury can be catastrophic, not just with physical movement but in terms of personality, moods and the ability to speak," he said.
“It is vital the patient gets the correct treatment at the right time because the first three to six months are crucial in making a recovery from a brain injury,” he said.
The condition affects 275 out of every 100,000 people globally, which includes mild brain injuries and 25 such people suffer severe and moderate brain injuries.
Traumatic brain injuries are a serious problem in the region and many people who suffer from the symptoms do not get the right treatment, said Dr Anwar.
The country needs a single unified system for patients, where medical treatment, rehabilitation, physiotherapy and vocational counselling can be provided under one roof, he said.
Dr Anwar said part of the problem was a disjointed approach to treating brain injuries in the region.
Many patients still don’t receive the right treatment as they are unaware of their medical condition. Lack of data also adds to the problem.
“A lot of people don’t realise mild brain injury can have serious repercussions, if not treated.
“The medical profession refers to these people as the ‘walking wounded’.”
The family caregiver or a friend also needs to be educated on the kind of complications that may arise and the support the patient will require in his or her everyday activities.
The National spoke to survivors of traumatic brain injuries and their families about their battle with brain injuries.
When Abdullatif Alameri set out to drive home to Abu Dhabi from Dubai after visiting friends, he had no way of knowing how his life would change that night.
“I decided to drive back to Abu Dhabi as I had to be up early for work the next day,” he said.
“On my way back, I started to get sleepy at the wheel and drove into a lorry. My head smashed against the windscreen because I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.”
Mr Alameri, who had a promising military career, suffered traumatic brain injury and was hospitalised for more than 12 months.
His recovery was slow and painful as the injury had severely reduced his capabilities.
“I couldn’t walk or talk,” he said.
“I had to go swimming and for physiotherapy sessions.”
Now, four years after the accident, Mr Alameri leads a full life again and works as a security guard - a prospect that once seemed out of the question.
Ghanem Alshehari’s brother Mohamed, a military personnel, was only 23 when he suffered a serious brain injury in a road accident in Abu Dhabi four months ago.
“He was thrown from a motorbike because of an issue with the brakes,” said the Emirati.
“He couldn’t breathe without the aid of tubes in the hospital.”
Mohamed was recovering well but that would not have been possible without the right treatment.
“He can walk and talk now as normal and is working on his speech and memory,” said Mr Alshehari.