Brain Injuries and Domestic Violence

A new study finds that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a common result of domestic violence.  This in turn may affect how victims behave and the medical treatment they snyder-the-unseen-victims-of-traumatic-brain-injury-from-domestic-violence-1200require.  It should affect how police and EMTs approach domestic violence situations.

According to Dr. Glynnis Zieman, the lead researcher at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix:

“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.”

The Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s has established a specialized program to treat TBI resulting from domestic violence.  This program is believed to be the first of its kind in the US.

Why does this matter?

Among other things, women who are battered are often unwilling to leave abusive partners.  Brain injury resulting in an inability to think and act rationally could explain much of that behavior.  The lag between abuse and leaving a situation may be less due to emotional stress than due to the need to recover at least in part from a serious injury.

Women who are battered need to be evaluated for brain injury.  That may mean hospitalization away from the abuser, as well as treatment and counseling for TBI.  If TBI is involved, it can have long term consequences for the victim, and the penalties for the abuser should be much  more severe.

“The medical team has found many victims are suffering from a full spectrum of side effects that can lead to the loss of a job, income, and eventually homelessness.”

The victims of abuse simply don’t have the financial resources available to celebrity athletes, but may face the same consequences in terms of cognitive decline, decline in motor skills and early death.

The New Yorker ran a remarkable story on brain injury and domestic violence in December 2015, well before this research was available.(4)  While that was anecdotal evidence of a problem, now we have an understanding of just how widespread this problem is.

This is a big deal.

The next logical question is, what about battered children?



  1. Glynnis Zieman, Ashley Bridwell, Javier F. Cárdenas. Traumatic Brain Injury in Domestic Violence Victims: A Retrospective Study at the Barrow Neurological Institute. Journal of Neurotrauma, 2016; DOI: 10.1089/neu.2016.4579
  4. Snyder, Rachel, “No Visible Bruises: Domestic Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury,” The New Yorker, 30 December 2015.

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