It’s now common knowledge that many of the fundamental aspects of human personality are created and controlled by the brain. Our understanding of the environment, and the people who surround us, is also a result of the way our brains interpret sight, smell, touch and sound. Physiological functions, too, are regulated by neural impulses, both conscious and not, that originate in the brain.
No one could be more aware of these facts than the victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the families who gather to support their loved ones through these often painful changes.
What Is A Traumatic Brain Injury?
Defined as any damage to the brain caused by sudden trauma, TBI can lead to a host of adverse symptoms, both physical and mental, that can be as debilitating as they are incurable. While new treatment methods are always under development, brain damage cannot be reversed once it is sustained.
For some patients, therapies with a focus on rehabilitation can return cognitive and physical functions to a degree of their former capacity, but improvement is a long-term goal and TBI affects everyone differently.
Are TBI & Acquired Brain Injuries Different?
The medical community is somewhat split on this question, and you may see some sources that define the two types of injury as distinct from one another.
According to WebMD, TBI is caused either by trauma that moves the brain around inside the skull or trauma that damages the skull itself, which in turn hurts the brain. Acquired brain injury, on the other hand, “occurs at the cellular level” when some object, like a tumor or blood clot, exerts pressure on brain tissue.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides a broader definition. Traumatic brain injury, the result of head trauma caused by an external force sometime after birth, is a type of acquired brain injury. Doctors often oppose the definition of traumatic brain injury to congenital forms of brain damage, which are present from birth.
Is A Concussion Considered A TBI?
Yes. Frequently used in relation to sports injuries, the word “concussion” refers to a type of mild traumatic brain injury in which a jolt to the head or body makes the brain move inside the skull, stretching brain cells beyond their limit.
In 2009, nearly 250,000 children were treated in US emergency rooms for concussions and other forms of TBI after sports injuries, a US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) study found.
How Common Is TBI?
Around 1.7 million Americans will suffer a TBI every year, but it’s hard to know the actual incidence of brain injury since many people don’t seek medical attention for their symptoms.
Turning to hospital records, we can estimate that between 2002 and 2006, traumatic brain injuries were involved in:
- 1,365,000 emergency room visits,
- 275,000 patient hospitalizations and
- 52,000 deaths
While 3 out of every 4 cases of brain injury will be mild, TBI is not a mild problem. Traumatic brain injuries kill 138 Americans every day. In fact, around 30% of all the deaths caused by personal injury involve TBI as a contributing factor.
Even mild cases of traumatic brain injury can have life-long effects on a patient’s well-being.
Is Anyone At A Higher Risk?
Yes, seniors over the age of 75 are most likely to be hospitalized for TBI-related injuries, and children under 4, as well as adolescents between 15 and 19, also appear to be at an increased risk.
In The Military
Traumatic brain injuries are often sustained by military personnel in combat, but most aren’t actually caused by direct trauma. Explosions create a wave of pressure that rolls outward from the epicenter of a blast, and while medical researchers still aren’t sure how this works, this “thump” of pressure can disrupt brain function in people thousands of feet away.
TBI has become recognized as a major problem in the military; Defense Department analysts say an estimated 230,000 soldiers suffered mild traumatic brain injuries during the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001 to 2014. That number may be much higher, though, since the military admits that exposure to blast events wasn’t consistently recorded during the early years of those wars.
Service members are more likely to suffer brain injuries than civilians, and that’s partially for demographic reasons. Men between 18 and 24 are already at increased risks for TBI, reports the Defense & Veterans Brain Injury Center, and most military personnel fit into that category.
Which Accidents Lead To Traumatic Brain Injury?
Brain damage can occur in any accident, even when the head isn’t directly struck by an external object. Quick jolts, like those associated with whiplash, can jostle the brain enough to send it crashing into the skull.
Certain accidents, though, are far more likely to result in TBI than others. Falls, car accidents and construction accidents that involve falling objects are major contributors, as is violent assault. Here are the CDC’s estimates for TBI causes:
Is Recovery Possible?
Immediately after a traumatic accident, emergency personnel and doctors focus on stabilizing patients and preventing further damage to the brain.
Some people will require surgery, to help improve blood flow to portions of the brain that have become blocked or reduce swelling. With the help of a team of specialists, most patients will begin adapting to a new lifestyle. They may need help performing the simplest tasks, suffer from communication difficulties and become emotionally distraught easily.
Relearning how to do things is a major part of recovery. Depending on which portions of the brain have been hurt, one, two or an entire constellation of basic activities can seem foreign or impossible to achieve.
But after immediate treatment, which may take days or weeks for patients who have fallen into a coma, improvements can actually appear rapid. While the process differs widely by patient, many people experience their most profound recovery during the first six months after an accident.
This burst of improvement, though, generally slows over time, and most patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury will continue to experience challenges for their entire lives.
How Much Does A TBI Cost?
According to Research!America, the “average lifetime health care costs for TBI are roughly $85,000 but can exceed $3 million.”
Treating patients with a traumatic brain injury for other conditions is also more expensive than treating people who haven’t suffered brain damage.
Will Insurance Cover It?
An insurance company will likely pay for emergency medical attention and an initial hospital stay, but lots of health insurers don’t cover long-term rehab costs.
Speaking to InsuranceQuotes.com in 2013, Susan Connors, CEO of the Brain Injury Association of America, said:
“Every year we get thousands of people who call to complain that their recovery has been delayed or denied because the payer won’t pay for treatment needed after hospitalization.”
“You are discharged from the hospital and you’re done.”
Another question is who defines “progress”? Many insurers withhold the right to terminate a patient’s coverage when they believe therapies are no longer doing any good. But for many people, recovering from a TBI is a slow process of fits and starts. There are good and bad days, and it’s hard to tell if or when a breakthrough can occur.
Many families, however, may have another option for securing long-term support in this difficult time.
How Can A Lawyer Help?
Every traumatic brain injury begins with an accident. Falls and car crashes are the leading causes of TBI, but in the confusion and fear directly following an accident, few victims are able to begin thinking about what caused that accident. If they investigated the circumstances surrounding their injury, it’s likely that many of these people would find negligence, another person’s reckless lack of care, at the root of it. Almost every car accident is caused at least in part by human error, and property owners routinely fail to ensure the safety of their visitors.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit may sound just like adding one more burden to a life that’s already become frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be. New York laws can often make filing a personal injury lawsuit quite complicated, which is why you want to have a New York attorney who is experienced in dealing with such cases. At Banville Law, our brain injury lawyers offer their services on a contingency-fee basis. That means our clients owe us nothing until we secure compensation in their case.