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The Invisible Scars of Brain Injuries

Brain injuries often are called an “invisible injury” because many who survive them don’t exhibit any physical differences. Although they may look like everybody else, their brain may no longer work like everybody else’s. The effects of injuries to the brain can be profound – from loss of long-term memory to shortened attention spans to mood swings.

The ranks of those with brain injuries expand every nine seconds. That’s how often someone in the United States sustains a brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA). It could come from a fall, an assault, a motor vehicle accident or as the result of disease, stroke or substance abuse.

By the end of the year, all of those reasons (and more) will account for 3.5 million Americans experiencing an acquired brain injury (ABI). This refers to any brain injury that isn’t hereditary, congenital, degenerative or induced during birth. Common causes of ABI include electric shock, infectious diseases, lightning strikes, near drownings, oxygen deprivation, strokes, seizures, substance abuse, drug overdoses and tumors. 

More than 70 percent of ABI injuries are related to a trauma event. Some sources of sudden trauma-induced brain injuries include falls, assaults, being struck, motor vehicle accidents or other types of accidents and violent episodes. These traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) cause 137 Americans to die every day and, for the big picture, 50,000 to die every year. 

The Effects of Brain Injuries

TBI is often defined as a change in brain function caused by an external force. While some people may heal completely, TBI can cause permanent damage to the brain and other parts of the body. The effects of TBI can impact all aspects of a person’s life, from the way they think and process information to the way they behave. Depending on the type and severity of brain injury suffered, these effects may include: 

  • Loss of ability to speak and understand language 

  • Mental confusion 

  • Difficulty with learning

  • Loss of short term and/or long term memory 

  • Personality changes, including irritability and impulsivity

  • Decreased control over mood and emotions 

  • Shortened attention span

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Changes in sleep, such as insomnia or hypersomnia

  • Inability to work full-time or remain employed at all

Brain injuries also can cause a range of physical symptoms. From paralysis to persistent headaches to seizures, these effects vary widely and depend on the type of injury suffered.

How to Prevent Brain Injuries

Often, accidents, acts of violence or internal issues are out of our control. But there are still many ways you can help prevent the occurrence of TBI. You can reduce your chances of sustaining a brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by: 

  • Always wearing a seatbelt when in a vehicle

  • Not engaging in distracted driving or texting while driving

  • Never driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

  • Taking measures to prevent older adult falls

  • Making living spaces and play areas safer for children

  • Wearing a helmet whenever appropriate, such as while biking, skiing, skateboarding, horseback riding or playing sports such as baseball or football

Our Goals Regarding Brain Injury Awareness

From mild concussions to severe trauma, this is an event that can be frightening for many. TBI not only acutely affects a patient’s quality of life, it also can change their family life forever. Some patients with brain injuries may need long-term rehabilitation care for weeks, months or even years. 

While brain injuries may appear to be invisible injuries, it’s vital to understand the needs of those who have suffered a TBI. Through conversations with friends and family, outreach programs and education in schools and other public institutions, we can all work together to spread awareness and prevent brain injuries.

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