About Traumatic Brain Injury

Brain injuries do not discriminate. A brain injury can happen Anytime, Anywhere to Anyone. A brain injury can happen to a child or adult of any age, race, gender, religion or social status. The problems that result from TBI, such as issues with thinking and memory, are often not visible. More than 1.7 million Americans sustain brain injuries each year. That is more than those who will experience HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis combined and yet awareness about TBI is so limited that it has been referred to as the “silent epidemic.” Traumatic brain injury is now seen as the signature wound of the war in Iraq and conflicts in Afghanistan, which has led to more of an emphasis on prevention and management of concussions. According to the Center for Disease Control and Injury Prevention, the leading causes of traumatic brain injury are Falls: 35.2%; Unknown/Other: 21%; Motor Vehicle: 17.3%; Struck by/Against: 16.5% and Assault: 10%.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined 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 a TBI. The severity of a TBI may range from mild (i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness) to severe (i.e., a long period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury). Emergency personnel typically determine the severity of a brain injury by using an assessment called the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). The terms Mild Brain Injury, Moderate Brain Injury, and Severe Brain Injury are used to describe the level of initial injury in relation to the neurological severity caused to the brain. There may be no correlation between the initial Glasgow Coma Scale score and the initial level of brain injury and a person’s short- or long-term recovery, or functional abilities.

A variety of outcomes are possible following a severe brain injury, everything from death to extremely good recovery.  Appropriate treatment should begin at the time of the accident or incident. A brain injury is an emergency and the person should be attended to as soon as possible. In many cases, the person may have multiple injuries (polytrauma). After receiving emergency medical treatment, individuals with moderate to severe brain injuries may be admitted to the hospital’s traumatic intensive care unit. The goals in the inpatient ICU include making the patient stable and preventing a medical crisis.  Some preventable rehabilitation may be tried in the ICU, such as body positioning, splinting and range of motion (a therapist moves the person’s limbs).

Brain injury is not an event or an outcome. Individuals who sustain brain injuries must have timely access to expert trauma care, specialized rehabilitation, lifelong disease management and individualized services and supports in order to live healthy, independent and satisfying lives.