While real concerns about brain injury in athletes and military veterans have received a great deal of media coverage in recent years, another population is falling under the radar: victims of domestic violence.
It's a concern that may affect millions of people in Washington and nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in four women and one in seven men have experienced a severe physical assault in their lifetime, as the Seattle Times reported. That may include being hit or punched, being slammed against a wall or being pushed down stairs.
And according to research published in Family & Community Health, as many as 60 percent of those survivors may have sustained a traumatic brain injury.
Even a single blow to the head can cause a traumatic brain injury that may have long-lasting symptoms, and unfortunately, many victims of domestic violence suffer repeated assaults. Moreover, the back, side and top of the head are common targets for abusers because visible bruises will be covered by the victim's hair.
Some researchers are studying a link between domestic violence and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. While CTE has made headlines in recent years after former professional football players and other athletes were diagnosed, it is likely that some victims of abused have sustained enough head injuries to cause CTE as well.
Treatment for TBI victims is complex and difficult
Unfortunately for many victims, medical providers frequently struggle to provide adequate care for traumatic brain injuries in domestic violence cases. Domestic violence often goes unreported, even to medical providers, and the symptoms of injuries such as CTE may not become apparent for months or years after the assault. Moreover, some of the symptoms of a brain injury, such as problems with mood and behavior, may be attributed to the psychological rather than neurological effects of a domestic assault.
In too many cases, traumatic brain injuries in victims of abuse go undetected and untreated, even when the victims are so impaired that they are unable to work and manage their lives. Some end up homeless or find themselves returning to an unsafe living situation.
While there is still much research to be done on the link between domestic violence and traumatic brain injury, what is clear is that victims of abuse represent a large, vulnerable population in need of proper treatment and care. Better education is needed for medical providers and the general public to make sure that victims of domestic violence are appropriately screened and treated for traumatic brain injuries.