Case Management, Life Care Plan, Medical Consultation

Do Not Ignore Brain Injuries Caused By Domestic Violence

 May 22, 2018

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

The brain injuries suffered by victims of domestic violence have been compared to those suffered by football players. Yet the circumstances make all the difference. When a football player suffers a traumatic brain injury, the medical response is immediate. Domestic violence victims often do not seek medical care following their injuries. They are primarily focused on fleeing the abuse and processing deep levels of shame.

According to research published in October 2017 in the Journal of Women’s Health. Between 40 to 92 percent of victims of domestic violence suffer physical injuries to the head. Nearly half report experiencing strangulation. Bear in mind that any bump, blow, or jolt to the head can cause a disruption in the normal function of the brain. This is the definition of a traumatic brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why Don’t Domestic Violence Victims Report Traumatic Brain Injuries?

A study on TBI and domestic violence was conducted at Barrow Neurological Institute, the world’s largest neurological disease treatment and research institution. It included 115 victims. 81 percent reported a loss of consciousness associated with their injuries. Only 21 percent sought medical help at the time of injury. These results were published in February 2017 in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Glynnis Zieman, a neurologist in the institute’s Concussion and Brain Injury center, there are multiple reasons why the victims did not seek medical help. For one, further symptoms of TBI make it difficult for victims to realize a brain injury has occurred. These include confusion, amnesia and loss of consciousness.

According to Dr. ZIeman, “victims are often alone after they are injured and often cannot seek medical care for injuries due to safety, isolation, or economic reasons.” Many victims erroneously believe that trauma to the head isn’t problematic unless you lose consciousness. Concussions tend to be underreported because they are considered a mild form of TBI and do not always involve loss of consciousness. It comes down to a lack of awareness.

This is the perfect opportunity to do something about that, by the way. March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Find out how you can join the #Change Your Mind Awareness Campaign.

What Are Specific Questions I Should Be Asking?

Let’s start with who you should be asking. Your primary care physician is a good start. We here at AdvancedRM specialize in traumatic brain injury and our experts are always available here to answer your questions.

In 1991, a universal, five question screening tool was developed by the International Center for the Disabled. It is called HELPS and is also used to help identify TBI among domestic violence victims. These are those five questions:

  • Were you hit in the head?
  • Did you seek emergency room treatment?
  • Did you lose consciousness?
  • Are you having trouble with concentration or memory?
  • Did you experience sickness or other physical problems following the injury?

The key is obviously to ask specific questions. Your patient may not remember. They might be embarrassed. Mostly, they fear retaliation. You have to pull the answers from them.


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