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Frequently Asked Questions

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Michael Paul Mason, BrainLine

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Frequently Asked Questions
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1. What is a traumatic brain injury?

If you experience any forceful contact to your head, and it disrupts your brain’s natural functions, then you’ve experienced a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Your brain can be injured by other conditions, like infections or strokes, but those kinds of injuries are called “acquired brain injuries,” or ABIs. They can be just as life altering as a TBI.

Doctors classify TBIs as either mild, moderate, or severe. Since most TBIs are mild, many people who sustain a TBI find that their symptoms get better over time. In fewer but more serious cases of TBI, the effects of the damage can last a lifetime.

2. How many people have TBI?

It’s hard to imagine, but almost 1.7 million Americans sustain a TBI each year.1 Most people who are treated at an emergency room are released, but approximately 275,000 are admitted annually into the hospital.1 Additionally, each year, more than 52,000 die as a result of the TBI,1 and some 125,000 are permanently disabled as a result of the injury.2

Although we don’t know the number of people with TBI who aren’t seen in an emergency department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 3.2 million Americans are permanently disabled as a result of a TBI.1

3. What causes TBI?

The leading causes of TBI are:

  • Falls (35.2%);
  • Motor vehicle/traffic crashes (17.3%);
  • Struck by/against (16.5%);
  • Assaults (11%);
  • Unknown/other (21%)1

Blasts are a leading cause of TBI for active duty military personnel in war zones.3

4. Who is at highest risk for TBI?

  • Males are approximately 1.5 times as likely as females to sustain a TBI.4
  • The age groups at highest risk for TBI are 0 to 4 year olds, 15 to 19 year olds, and adults aged 65 years and older.4
  • Certain military duties increase the risk of sustaining a TBI.5
  • African-Americans have the highest death rate from TBI.4

5. What are the costs of TBI?

TBI takes a big toll on the American economy — in 2000, it cost the US approximately $60 billion dollars overall. 6

The more severe the injury is, the more expensive it is to treat. If you were to experience a severe brain injury today, it would cost anywhere from $600,000 to $1.8 million dollars to care for you over your lifetime. If you’re a veteran, that cost could be much higher, since wartime TBIs are often accompanied by other injuries as well.

6. How does a TBI affect the brain and body?

When a TBI occurs, anything having to do with your brain is potentially affected. That means your basic body functions, like eating and sleeping, can be altered. It also means that the complex parts of your life — your emotions, your thoughts, and your ability to communicate — can also be disrupted.

In serious cases, TBI can also affect the brain’s electrical system, causing seizures. Such a condition is commonly known as epilepsy. TBI is also known to increase the risk for other conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease. 7,8

7. What are some common obstacles that arise after a TBI?

Treating TBI isn’t simple, and that creates many challenges for people with TBI and their families. In a 2006 report,9  the Institute of Medicine recognized the hardships that TBI creates and issued a report saying:

"…many people with TBI experience persistent, lifelong disabilities. For these individuals and their caregivers, finding needed services is, far too often, an overwhelming logistical, financial, and psychological challenge. Individuals with TBI-related disabilities, their family members, and caregivers report substantial problems in getting basic services, including housing, vocational services, neurobehavioral services, transportation, and respite for caregivers. Yet efforts to address these issues are stymied by inadequate data systems, insufficient resources, and lack of coordination. TBI services are rarely coordinated across programs except in some service sites. Furthermore, in most states, there is no single entry point into TBI systems of care."

Even long after an injury has happened, many people find that they require certain things that aren’t readily available. The most frequent unmet needs are:

  • Improving memory and problem solving;
  • Managing stress and emotional upsets;
  • Controlling one's temper; and
  • Improving one's job skills.10

8. What are some long-term effects of TBI?

Because the human brain is so complicated, it’s extremely difficult to predict the long-term effects of any TBI. Most cases of mild TBI will resolve over a course of time with minimal problems. In the case of more serious TBIs, a person can experience any number of changes over the course of months and years.

Many people with TBI have problems with basic cognitive skills. It’s hard for them to pay attention or concentrate, and they might have trouble learning new material. A TBI can also make you think more slowly, or cause you to get easily confused. Even insight — the ability to clearly perceive a situation — can be affected. People with TBI may become impulsive, or develop unusual habits. Things that were once easy — like talking and listening — may become difficult or impossible.

Because the brain regulates our emotional and psychological lives, TBI can substantially alter your sense of mental wellness. The TBI might cause a personality change, or introduce mental problems. A person with TBI may have mood swings, depression, irritability, aggression, or disinhibition.

Vision problems are a common side effect of TBI, as are changes in your other senses: smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Problems with balance, vertigo, and ringing in the ears are also common. In a small percentage of cases, seizures occur as a result of TBI and may involve a loss of consciousness and muscle contractions. In many cases, anticonvulsive drugs or surgical intervention may help to prevent or slow seizure activity.

In severe cases that affect the brain’s most basic functions, fundamental abilities can be altered or inhibited. Paralysis or spasticity (muscle tightening) can affect a person’s ability to move, swallow, or breathe. Digestive problems can arise, and hormonal changes may result. Women with TBI often experience menstrual difficulties.

Written exclusively for BrainLine by Michael Paul Mason. For more information about author and brain injury case manager Michael Paul Mason, go to www.michaelpaulmason.com.


Michael Paul Mason Michael Paul Mason, Michael Paul Mason is the founding editor of This Land, a monthly magazine based in Tulsa. Mason's first book, Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury and Its Aftermath, is an exploration into the harsh realities endured by people with brain injury. 


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Comments [18]

My husband has a severe TBI from a vehicle accident. He is 64. It has been 7 months since the accident and he seems to have little interest in food or beverages. He will taste something and say that " it's so good " but one or two bites are enough for him.He is getting his nourishment through a feeding tube. He seems to be coming along in his therapy but has recently developed nausea since they put a shunt in to relieve excess fluid in the brain. Has anyone else seen or had these problems (nausea and lack of appetite?) Did they resolve and how. Thanks for any input.

Dec 21st, 2013 10:23pm

Hello my name is Joseph Dilley i'am 37 years old and had a assault almost 9 years ago, I have made a very good recovery as to what happened to me but I had a child before this an a wife who seemed to do a complete 360 in the way she was before my injury so she left me because I think she didn't think I was going to be the man I was before my injury but she got remarried and now wants to move with my son to Oklahoma so I do not want that I love my son so much but it seems when we go to court I feel my rights are not being taken serious because of my injury so if you or anyone reading this has any ideas on what to do or any services in Albuquerque New Mexico to help me out right to me at my email mmajoseph@msn.com open to anything right now thank you Joseph Dilley.

Aug 27th, 2013 7:35pm

Hello,I just turned 40 in nov.As a child I had several blows to my head.I\'m now having alot of problems.Was in the hospital in dec.I have to go see a neurogolist in Feb.Seem like i cant rem anything my spelling is aweful.how or will the know if i have tbi?one pupil has been bigger than the other for yrs now.

Jan 21st, 2013 4:59am

I have lived with the effects of a severe TBI FOR 27 years I do not believe that you overcome it completely but it's the way you mange it I have found when I have emotional difficulties or stressful circumstances that is when I am effected deeper and longer than some one with out a TBI it has has been difficult at times but I have lived a rewarding life so far my faith in god has helped me

Dec 30th, 2012 7:05pm

My sister had a TBI 27 years ago in 1985 and suffered immediate effects from TBI like changes in personality, impulse control, temper, etc. She was was 18 at the time and is now 45 and has a PhD. It took several years and ADD medication for her to return to a "normal" level of behavior, but she did. It is possible.

Nov 26th, 2012 3:17am

This is a wonderful resource. I have had 5 "knocked out" TBIs as I grew up, then had 2 more TBIs during the past 16 months. Big changes in mood, my immune system and my ability to control what I eat. I always knew growing up that *something* was different. None of my classmates forgot their sweater almost every day at school. As I grew older, most of my friends were able to hold their tongue when it really mattered. But I learned to deal with it. Researching TBI makes me very frustrated. I wish I hadn't been so cavalier in the past. I have documented scar tissue now, and there's nothing I can do about it except eat well, continue to stretch my brain's abilities and hope for progress.

Oct 14th, 2012 7:03pm

I wish I had found this site earlier! My husband was injured Feb 2012, found out we were pregnant his second week in ICU and blessed his insurance covered a great rehab 6 hours away. It's been long and hard. Everyone seems to think life for us has gone back to normal. We are far from it, he thinks he's back to the same. But I know differently. He also insists going back to drinking. At the time of his 4 wheeler accident his blood alcohol level was .18, more than twice the legal limit. I've had a hard time with his emotional and agression changes. He has damage to the temporal and frontal lobes. His family is in no way supportive, which has really took a toll on my family. They see everything me and him go thru, as well as my 2 year old son. Just reading other's experiences and knowing I'm not the only person who feels this way truly helps. Thanks for making this page available. I wish the Rehab or hospital would make pages like this apparent for families. They only seem to want to leave you in the dark on recovery outcomes, or prepare you for the worst. Thankfully my husband is a high functioning TBI survivor and has been able to go back to his old job, but it's apparent life is different from here on out. katherine_king@bellsouth.net

Sep 14th, 2012 8:07pm

imhave a boyfriend im with he's 28 and been together %months i knew he had brain surgery at age 12 due to accident.. buy he has alot behaviorial issues lies, and acts like hes 12 to 21 at times..

Jul 27th, 2012 9:51pm

My new love interest had a combat injury to frontal lobe. I only know about that...speech/memory issues. He hasn't spoken of it since, but in reading brainline I can see MANY TBI issues at work with our difficulties. I'm glad I read what I did. I have a new approach to work with now, not only for myself, but him, and US.

Jun 15th, 2012 3:10pm

My 23 year old step son was in an accident July 2010. While he has made a very good recovery physically and mentally, I feel often like I am dealing with a teenager not a 23 year old. It is very difficult because he lies and manipulates you in any situation that suits him. They say to be patient and kind and caring to a TBI, but my TBI is very hard to deal with on a daily basis. The lies and manipulation just tear down your patience and caring attitude. I know he struggles but adding the "extras" on top of the injury makes it very depressing to deal with. It seems to be that these personality traits were there before and now are "heightened". SO in so many words I relate to the post of the boy acting 18. We were told by doctors to expect to deal with a 12 year old. I believe daily he goes anywhere from about a 12 year old to an actual 23 year old. I believe it is just the way they will be unless they get the therapy they so need and deserve. That is my hope as for now, starting therapy that should have happened directly after the injury, but it is very hard to get the TBI to understand that there is something wrong and to come to terms with the actual incident. Good luck to all, I know we all need it.

Dec 28th, 2011 6:09pm

I have a 46 year old family member who, at 18, was in terrible accident. He was drinking, rolled his truck, and was thrown from the vehicle. No one saw it actually happen, but he was found walking around the highway with no recollection of the accident. No medical measures were taken, and will he will not acknowledge anything wrong with him. Though he has learned adult coping skills, he thinks and behaves just like he was still 18. Has anyone else experienced this?

Sep 20th, 2011 1:59pm

MVA about fifteen months ago. One of my problems is sexual dysfunction-What can be done??

Jun 1st, 2011 3:42am

After being in serveral blasts in both Iraq and Afghanistan I suffer from TBI, it has a great impact on your daily life, from sleeping, eating, and one of the worst is your emotional state of mind. It not only effects the soldier but the family back home, the TBI has been one of the hardest things that both my wife and I have had to overcome and we are far from overcooming it completely. in short I wanted to tell people not to hide the fact that they have a TBI but to embrace it and learn from it.

May 14th, 2011 12:20am

im experiencing a hard time focussing in class but i never had before i recently took a blow to the head, what do i do

Apr 17th, 2011 8:56am

seizures at the age of 70 with M.R.I scan showing oedema in the brain ??what does it mean???

Jan 11th, 2011 10:21am

I want to know the memory capacity of the human brain

Sep 21st, 2010 6:18am

I had a severe motorbike accident in 1986 - that left me in a coma for 7-months. I had global brain damage. I won't try to fool you: rehabilitation is tough and it takes a lot of effort - but it does happen ... if you're willing to put in a lot of effort.

Aug 28th, 2010 2:13pm

I suffer having a traumatic head injury, because I was hurt in a vehicle accident three years ago. And every day, I suffer because everything is so hard to do, especially since I am in a wheelchair all day long, away from my friends and family. It really is painful, I can't explain it.

Jun 15th, 2010 4:05pm


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