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New cycle helmet test discovers true level of protection for cyclists
The effectiveness of bike helmets in protecting against brain injuries caused by collisions at speed has been tested for the first time.
New helmet technologies have emerged in recent years to mitigate the instances and severity of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in collisions from cycling, but the way this is traditionally tested leaves room for doubt in their findings.
The majority of real-world cycling-based TBIs are caused by rotational forces on the brain, which are generated by the head hitting the ground at an oblique angle, mostly seen when cyclists fall or collide while moving.
However, current methods test whether heads are protected from falls at right-angles, which happen mostly when bikes are stationary, and do not account for the rotational forces at play when cyclists fall to the ground at speed.
Now, a new Imperial College London paper has demonstrated a new simulation-enabled helmet testing technique that tests how well helmets protect heads from rotational forces.
Testing 27 different helmets in a purpose-built rig at Research Institutes of Sweden, the project found that newer technologies reduced whole-brain strain compared with older helmets.
However, they also found that the effectiveness of newer helmets depended on their technology and location of impact – some helmets which were designed specifically to reduce rotational forces didn’t appear to accomplish their aims.
Its findings could be significant in ensuring future safety innovations in cycling helmets, the research team said.
“The amount of people cycling since the COVID-19 pandemic began has doubled on weekdays and trebled on weekends in parts of the UK,” says lead author Fady Abayazid, of Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering.
“To keep themselves safe, it’s important cyclists know the best way to protect their heads should they have a fall or collision.
“Cyclists falling from motion will most often hit the ground at a non-right-angle. These angles produce rotational forces that subject the brain to twisting and shearing forces – factors contributing to severe TBIs, which can be life-altering.
“However, current testing standards for bike helmets don’t account for this issue, so we designed a new analysis method to address this gap by combining experimental oblique impacts with a highly detailed computational model of the human brain.”
Senior author Dr Mazdak Ghajari, also of Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering, adds: “With cycling’s popularity soaring, we are seeing more requests from the public and cycling communities for a thorough review of new helmet technologies to inform their purchases.
“However, this is hard to do without testing that accounts for rotational forces.
“Our research could help to address this gap, inform customers, improve safety, and reduce the frequency and severity of TBIs from cycling.”
The authors are now looking into testing standards for motorbike and industrial helmets and the Dyson School of Design Engineering has also just built its own rig to carry out future experimental helmet impact tests.
‘Don’t be alone, don’t be too proud to reach out for help’
After Vasili Kalisperas was born a healthy baby, his jaundice was left undetected by midwives and led to him being left with cerebral palsy and needing round-the-clock care. Here, his mum Elena discusses the huge mental health challenges of being a parent in such a position and how she learned to admit it’s OK not to be OK
I’ve always been a very optimistic and positive person, which I do think helps during such traumatic times, but that’s definitely not to say it hasn’t been a struggle. As equipped as you might be in terms of your outlook on life to deal with challenges, when something so traumatic happens to you, it is of course going to be a struggle to come to terms with that.
No-one tells you how to cope, you can never prepare yourself for something like this. There is no right or wrong way to do things and you can only get through it as best you can.
My husband and I dealt with things so differently in the early days. He found comfort in talking about what had happened to Vasili, by sharing a lot of information on social media, whereas for me I was more introvert, I didn’t want to do that.
I was diagnosed with PTSD, which stemmed from the fact our situation was so completely preventable. I became fixated with Vasili still being in the womb, when things were still fine, and I so desperately wanted to find a way to turn back time. I had a water birth with Vasili, and every time I had a bath I’d be in there for hours crying, reliving the whole experience of giving birth to him, feeling the exact pains I felt.
My husband made sure I was cared for and was OK, but finding help was hard. I did try and get medical help but the waiting list was huge. I waited for over a year to see a therapist but I didn’t find it helpful – she wasn’t trained in my needs and was a general counsellor, so I didn’t get anywhere. I was then referred somewhere else, but that was in the same place I had my check ups when I was expecting Vasili, and that in itself was too traumatic.
After being bounced around for a couple of years, eventually, I went privately and found an amazing therapist. It does take a huge amount of time and energy to relive the experience, but I found that opening up and talking about how I felt was so important. I also discovered EMDR therapy through these sessions, which was fantastic and really helped me so much. I realised how far I had come through taking that decision to open up and look for support.
If you have a support network around you, then that can be vital in times of trauma. Even if friends don’t know quite what to say, the fact that they’ll listen can be so valuable. My mum and sister were always there, anytime I needed anything. There were times when no-one could say the right thing, no-one could fix what had happened, but just being able to talk and cry and share what I was going through helped me so much. You need to allow yourself time to grieve, as it really is a grieving process.
In society, while things have thankfully changed massively in recent years, there is still a feeling for many people that showing emotions is a sign of weakness. There is still a stigma in admitting you’re struggling with your mental health, but I see that it’s like your physical health – you’re never going to breeze through life without any problems at all, it’s going to happen to us all at some point. No-one should ever be afraid to admit they’re struggling and they need support.
Lockdown has been difficult for us all, and seeing the impact on the children and my oldest daughter in particular, has been awful. She is in high school and not being able to leave the house has had a big impact on her mental health. But as a family, we share our feelings and talk about it, and I teach my children the importance of positivity and an optimistic outlook to help them cope with challenges.
In learning to deal with what you face and move on with your life, you need to accept it and forgive yourself by recognising it isn’t your fault. It has been a long journey for me – Vasili will be nine in May – but we’ve made so much progress.
While Vasili and our other children are of course our priority, I’ve learnt the importance of making time for self love and care. Without making time for that, you’ll run yourself into the ground. For the last two-and-a-half years, the children have been at school every day, which has meant I’ve had time to take control of my mental and physical health. I started doing daily exercise, which began by making sure I got out to walk every day, and I now regularly go to the gym. It’s a big release for me.
I’ve also reached a place where I’m able to look to the future and I’ve started my own business as a hairdresser, working from home in a salon we’ve created in an outbuilding. Being a hairdresser gives me a chance to help other people to open up and discuss anything that’s on their mind, which for many people may be the only chance they have to do that. And also, I’m training to be a personal trainer – I’m already a mental health first aider, and I’ve seen for myself the impact that exercise can have during the most trying times, so I think the combination of mental and physical wellbeing support is so important and I’d love to help people with those.
For me, in being able to find acceptance of our situation, I’ve been able to move on and find time for myself and what I want to do with my life. I’ve definitely found my purpose, both as a mum and as a woman, and I’m in a much better place now. But without having the strength to open up, to reach out and admit I needed some help, I don’t think I’d have reached this point in my journey.
The one thing I’d say to people who are struggling, whatever their situation or circumstances, is to talk. Don’t be alone, don’t be too proud, and reach out to someone. I’m so pleased I did.
Calvert Reconnections strengthens senior team ahead of opening
A groundbreaking neurorehabilitation centre is helping to plan for its future even before its opening through strengthening its management team.
Calvert Reconnections is set to open on June 21 and is set to deliver new possibilities in brain injury rehabilitation through its UK-first residential programme which combines traditional clinical therapies with physical outdoor activities.
The centre, based on the outskirts of Keswick in the Lake District, is now making new additions to its senior team as is prepares for its long-awaited opening, which has previously been delayed due to COVID-19.
Claire Appleton has become head of service at Calvert Reconnections with Lorna Mulholland appointed as registered manager.
Claire, an occupational therapist, has 23 years’ experience working in the NHS and has held various community roles including in acquired brain injury, long-term neurological conditions, neurological splinting and stroke rehab.
Five years ago, Claire moved into a management post in the NHS leading the Eden Community Rehab Team, developing strategic specialist leadership and management skills, and gaining valuable experience delivering high quality health services.
Lorna has 12 years’ specialist experience within the social care sector, principally in acquired brain injury, learning disabilities, mental health and autism.
She has an extensive knowledge base in delivering care within a residential and supported living setting with experience in complex challenging behaviour.
Sean Day, centre director at Calvert Reconnections, says: “As part of our senior management team, Claire and Lorna have a key role to play in the delivery of our service.
“Everyone at Calvert Reconnections take great pride in what we do and the difference we can make to people’s lives.”
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