Growing Evidence Shows Domestic Abuse Survivors Face High TBI Risk


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When the topic of traumatic brain injury comes up these days, it is almost always in relation to football and the risk of long-term brain damage to players. But, TBI isn’t always caused by athletics. Common falls, automobile accidents, and more can cause brain injuries that can be devastating and difficult to recover from. So can domestic violence.

New research published by researchers at Barrow Neurological Institute has found a link between domestic violence and high risk for TBI, which the team says could have significant implications for how domestic violence survivors are treated in both medical and social service communities.

“Head injuries are among the most common type suffered in domestic violence, which can lead to repetitive brain injuries that often have chronic, life-changing effects, much like what we see in athletes. We found that 88 percent of these victims suffered more than one head injury as a result of their abuse and 81 percent reported too many injuries to count,” says Dr. Glynnis Zieman, lead researcher on the study.

The research conducted at Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center was published in the Journal of Neurotrauma. Barrow conducted the study through a specialty program aimed at addressing TBI in domestic violence survivors. The program is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

For the study, the team performed a retrospective chart review of more than 100 patients who entered the program and found TBI is frighteningly common in domestic violence survivors.

“This is the third chapter in the concussion story,” says Dr. Zieman. “First it was veterans, then it evolved into professional athletes, and now we’re identifying brain injuries in victims of domestic violence. And, unlike well-paid football players, these patients rarely have the support, money and other resources needed to get help.”

Zieman says domestic violence survivors often suffer in silence, but studies like these and increased awareness efforts are making these survivors more aware of the long-term issues related to concussions sustained during their abuse.

The team says they will continue to research this issue to determine the severity and long-term effects of TBI in the context of domestic violence with the goal of improving treatment options and support systems for victims of domestic abuse.

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