Each year in the United States, nearly 1.5 million people sustain a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Causes vary from falls to traffic crashes and physical assaults. Additionally, a large number of military personnel who return from active war zones, such as the war in Iraq, suffer from TBIs.
Traumatic Brain Injury is defined by the Brain Injury Association of America as a “blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain.” Not all blows or jolts to the head result in TBI, but it often is hard to tell the severity of brain injury right away. A TBI can result in short or long-term problems with independent function.
Of those who suffer TBIs, 50,000 die each year, 235,000 are hospitalized, while 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 3 million Americans currently have a long-term or lifelong need for help in performing daily activities as a result of a TBI.
Part of the insidious nature of TBI is that it is often missed in initial medical examinations after a blow or jolt to the head. Symptoms are subtle and can be overlooked, or may be delayed days or weeks before they appear.
Carol Stanley is familiar with the surprise of TBI. In January 2007, she received word that her son Jason, a college student, had been the victim of a violent assault. He was pushed to the ground and hit his head on the pavement. While he was unconscious, his attackers continued to beat him.
When Jason was initially examined by emergency personnel, they said he seemed relatively intact, with just some cuts to his head. Physicians assured her he would be fine.
Within the next 24 hours, Jason woke up vomiting blood. His mother rushed him to the emergency room. He could not stand up without becoming dizzy and nauseated. Doctors discovered fractures to his skull and jaw and damage to the nerves in his right ear. He was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, where he stayed for five days under observation in the neurology ward.
Jason recovered, but is left with a Traumatic Brain Injury. He and his mother are now learning something else people don’t know about TBI – there are long-term, lasting effects. People who suffer from TBIs experience cognitive defects, including difficulties with attention and memory, confusion, sleep disorder, emotional disorders, speech and language problems, and sensory and perceptual problems. They also might experience physical problems such as chronic pain and seizures.
TBI also can increase the risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders that can become more prevalent with age.