What is brain injury
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Fact Sheets

Brain Injury Characteristics
Definitions and Causes
Some statistics about brain injury
Results of a brain injury
Seven things families need to remember

Acquired brain injury is an injury to the brain that is not hereditary, present at birth, or degenerative. Causes include traumatic brain injury; anoxic/hypoxic injury (e.g. heart attack, carbon monoxide poisoning), intracranial surgery, seizure disorders and toxic exposure (e.g. substance abuse, ingestion or inhalation of volatile agents).

Traumatic brain injury with or without skull fracture is an insult to the brain caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness.

Brain injury may result in an impairment of cognitive abilities (e.g. perception, memory, or judgment), physical, behavioral or emotional functioning. A brain injury may be either temporary or permanent and may cause either partial or total functional impairment.

Mild brain injury, also known as concussion is an injury that may leave the person feeling dazed or cause a brief loss of consciousness.

Mild brain injury can lead to "post-concussion syndrome" that can include headaches, dizziness, mild mental slowing, and fatigue. For some people, symptoms may last only a few months; for others, problems may persist indefinitely.

Brain Injury Characteristics:

Just as each individuals is unique, so is each brain injury. Physical disabilities, impaired learning and personality changes are common. Frequently reported problems include:

  • Physical:
    Speech, Hearing, Paralysis, Headaches, Vision, Seizure Disorder, Muscle Spasticity, Reduced Endurance.
  • Cognitive Impairments:
    Concentration, Attention, Perceptions, Planning, Communication, Writing Skills, Short Term Memory, Long Term Memory, Judgment, sequencing, Reading Skills, Orientation.
  • Behavioral / Emotional Changes:
    Fatigue, Anxiety, Low Self-Esteem, Restlessness, Agitation, Mood Swings, Excessive Emotions, Depression, Sexual Dysfunction, Lack of Motivation, Inability to Cope, Self-Centeredness.

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Coma is defined as a prolonged state of unconsciousness. The person does not respond to external stimuli. There is no speech, the eyes are closed, and the person cannot obey commands.

What Causes Coma:

More than 50% of the coma cases are due to trauma to the head or circulatory disruptions the brain.

How Long Does Coma Last:

Coma can last from hours to days, depending on the severity of the brain damage. It is possible for a person to remain in a comatose state for months or even years.

Can Medication Help:

Presently, there are no known medications that will shorten the length of coma. There are some medications that will be used to deepen the level of unconsciousness while others will be used to temporarily paralyze the body. The medicines given are for well being of the comatose person.

Can They Move, Hear, Or Feel Pain:

A person in coma cannot obey commands; however, they may move in response to touch, pain, or their own movements. A person in coma may respond to pain by moving or groaning, but usually they have no recall of pain. Some people in coma may appear to be able to hear and understand by squeezing a hand, sucking, responding to touch, or calming down when a familiar voice is heard. Since most persons in coma cannot recall the period of unconsciousness, it is not possible to determine if the comatose person could actually hear and understand. A good rule to follow is, to talk to, and about the person as if they could hear and understand you.

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Definitions and Causes

The Brain Injury Association of America defines an acquired brain injury as an injury to the brain that has occurred after birth and “which is not hereditary, congenital or degenerative.” A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an acquired brain injury that is “caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness.” The most common causes of TBI are vehicle crashes, falls, sports injuries, and violence. Other acquired brain injuries can be caused by medical events such as anoxia (loss of oxygen to the brain), aneurysms, infections to the brain, tumors, or stroke.

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Some statistics about brain injury

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2001):

  • 1.5 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury every year.
  • Each year, 80,000 Americans experience the onset of long-term disability following TBI.
  • More than 50,000 people die every year as a result of TBI.
  • Every year, over 1.5 million Americans sustains a traumatic brain injury.
  • Among those who survive, 80,000 people per year must learn to cope with lifelong losses of function.
  • (Updated as of 2009), 3.17 Million Americans - 1% of the U.S. population currently live with disabilities resulting from a brain injury.
  • Motor vehicle accidents cause 44% of brain injuries; falls, 26%; assaults and firearms, 17%; sports and recreation and other, 13%.
  • An estimated 200,000 children are hospitalized each year with brain trauma and 30,000 sustain permanent disabilities.
  • Every year in the U.S., 50,000 children sustain bicycle-related brain injuries; of those, over 400 die.
  • Males are twice as likely to sustain a brain injury than females, and young men between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest rate of injury.
  • Every year, 50,000 Americans will die as a result of a traumatic brain injury.

In the time it took you to read these facts, at least two more Americans sustained a traumatic brain injury.  For additional national statistics, go to the CDC website:

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Results of a brain injury

Whatever the cause, a brain injury can, according to the Brain Injury Association of America, result in “an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning. It can also result in the disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning.” Cognitive consequences can include memory loss, slowed ability to process information, trouble concentrating, organizational problems, poor judgment, difficulty initiating activities, among others. Physical consequences can include seizures, muscle spasticity, fatigue, headaches, balance problems, among others. Emotional/behavioral consequences can include depression, mood swings, anxiety, impulsivity, agitation, among others.

Brain injury affects not only the individual, but the family, close friends, coworkers and other social networks of the individual as well. Roles and relationships change; the financial ramifications may be extensive.

The Brain Injury Association of America National Office has an extensive website, with more information about the causes of brain injury, statistics, consequences, numerous resources and links. Visit the Brain Injury Association of America on the web at: http://www.biausa.org

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Seven things families need to remember

  1. Reinforce the behaviors you would like to see increase. Like a garden "water the behaviors you'd like to grow."
  2. When safety is not an issue, ignore the behavior you would like to decrease.
  3. Model the behaviors you would like to see.
  4. Avoid situations that provoke behaviors you are trying to reduce.
  5. Structure the environment, use cues for positive behaviors. Plan rest periods.
  6. Redirect the person rather than challenging them.
  7. Seek professional help sooner than later.

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Fact Sheet Section...

Here is a listing of our available Fact Sheets for you to download, to read or print to give to others.

Fact Sheets

CDC's "Facts About Traumatic Brain Injury"

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Brain Injury Association of Illinois
P.O. Box 70
Palos Heights, IL 60463
Phones: 312-726-5699 or  800-699-6443  Fax:312-630-4011