Frequency of Traumatic Brain Injury:

You Are Not Alone

If trauma-caused brain injury were instead disease-resulting, it would be labeled a “plague of epidemic proportions.” Only slightly exaggerated, the fact remains that the frequency of traumatic brain injury is extremely high.

Unfortunately, as could be expected, the failure to properly diagnose and even define brain injury compromised the accuracy of early studies, whose goal was to track the frequency of traumatic brain injury in the United States of America. These studies are commonly referred to as “epidemiological studies”.

For example, many of the early studies (1935-1981) required one or more of the following criterion for inclusion: (i) loss of consciousness; (ii) hospital admission; and/or (iii) positive neuro-radiological findings. Moreover, these earlier studies sporadically did not include cases in which the patient actually died before reaching the hospital.

Nonetheless, even utilizing the outmoded, inaccurate criterion of the past, frequency rates of traumatic brain injury were found as high as 10 per 175 patients, and only as low as 10 per 600 patients.

Modern studies focusing on the frequency of traumatic brain injury (1981-present) have attempted to resolve inaccurate definitional difficulties and have looked beyond hospital discharge coding problems. These studies tend to be much more accurate and demonstrate an alarming frequency rate of traumatic brain injury.

Based on the modern studies, it is likely that the annual incidents of new head injuries treated in hospitals in this country is 400 per 100,000 patients treated. Accordingly, more than 1,000,000 new head injuries are treated in hospitals each year. Even these studies, however, ignore the numerous cases of “mild” traumatic brain injury in which the patient is never hospitalized.

Corroboration for these numbers comes from the most recent data from the Center’s for Disease Control and Injury Prevention (CDC): It is now estimated that there are 5.3 million children and adults living with the consequences of sustaining a traumatic brain injury in the United States. This number represents nearly 2% of the population.

TBI does not discriminate. It can happen to a child or adult of any age, gender, race, religion, or socio-economic status. The risk of TBI is highest among adolescents, young adults and persons over the age of 75. In comparing the national prevalence rate for TBI with other more commonly cited and discussed disabilities, it is easily understood why TBI is often referred to as the “silent epidemic”. Examples of other prevalence rates (from CDC) follow:

  • 400,000 with Spinal Cord Injuries;
  • 500,000 with Cerebral Palsy;
  • 2.3 million with Epilepsy;
  • 3.0 million with Stroke disabilities;
  • 4.0 million with Alzheimer’s Disease;
  • 5.3 million with TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURIES;
  • 5.4 million with Persistent Mental Illness;
  • and 7.2 million with Mental Retardation.

An estimated TWO MILLION people receive a traumatic brain injury each year and someone will sustain a brain injury every fifteen seconds. An estimated ONE MILLION people are treated for TBI and released from hospital emergency departments each year.

Each year 230,000 Americans are hospitalized (longer than ER booking) as a result of TBI. Each year 80,000 Americans experience the onset of long-term disability as a result of sustaining a TBI. More than 50,000 people die every year as a result of TBI.

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of brain injury. They account for 40% of all TBI’s. Falls are the second leading cause of TBI and the leading cause of brain injury in the elderly. In 1990, Congress responded to the reported increase in TBI by amending the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (PL 101-476) to include TBI as a separate disability category. {See also, Code of Federal Regulations, Title 34, Section 300.7(b)(121)].

If you or someone you know has been injured or suffered Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI, you need the assistance of the Scarlett Law Group. Call (415) 688-2176 today to speak with a California Personal Injury Attorney.

In response to recommendations of the Interagency Head Injury Task Force, Representative Jim Greenwood introduced the first version of the TBI Act during the 103rd Congress. He was later joined by Henry Waxman as lead co-sponsor in the House. Senator Orrin G. Hatch and Senator Edward M. Kennedy introduced similar legislation in the Senate. The Legislation was re-introduced in the 104th Congress and signed into law as PL 10-166 on July 29, 1996. This Legislation provides for CDC surveillance of occurrence and cause of TBI (hence the statistics above), as well as development of medical treatment and prevention. Grants and other public funding mechanisms are also included in the legislation. In introducing S-96 on January 4, 1995, Senator Hatch stated: “Sustaining a traumatic brain injury can be both catastrophic and devastating. The financial and emotional costs to the individual, family, and community are enormous. Traumatic Brain Injury is the leading cause of death and disability among Americans under the age of 35. In the State of Utah, for example, the main affected age is 28, which is often the beginning of an individual’s maximum productivity….”

Senator Kennedy’s introductory statement included the following: “In 1988, Congress recommended the Secretary of Health and Human Services establish an Interagency Head Injury Task Force to identify gaps in research, training, medical management, and rehabilitation. This legislation responds to the prevention, research, and service needs identified by the Task Force. This Bill will promote coordination in the delivery system and assure greater access to services for victims suffering from the disabling consequences of these injuries. By improving the quality of care, we can reduce severely the disabling effects and reduce the heavy toll from these injuries”.

Unfortunately, while this legislation may help, the public (taxpayer) cannot foot the entire bill resulting from these injuries, especially where the injury results from the negligent or intentional wrongs of another. Moreover, due to advances in medical technology, especially in the diagnostic areas of medicine (PET, MRI, etc.), brain injury is likely to be diagnosed at greater rates than ever before. It is not necessarily that there are more brain injuries occurring today, but due to poor diagnostic capabilities in the past, these injuries were simply overlooked, and unfortunately, left untreated for the most part.

The Scarlett Law Group is involved with virtually all levels of the problem. From representation of injured victims, and their family, to community education and outreach, the Scarlett Law Group is committed to victims of TBI and their family.

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