Every year, 2.8 to 5 million people in the United States visit an emergency department room due to a traumatic brain injury (The Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, 2017). That is about every 21 seconds (BIA-CT). A traumatic brain injury is any injury (bump, blow, jolt, or penetrating head injury) that causes a disruption in the normal functioning of the brain (“Traumatic Brain Injury In the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). In the military/veteran community, explosive blasts from war cause traumatic brain injuries. These visits often result in prolonged hospitalization, death, or long-term disabilities. Five to 10 million Americans currently have long-term disabilities or need a caretaker for daily living due to their TBI. This is not surprising, as TBIs disable 6X more people each year than spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, and breast cancer combined (Brain Injury Association of Connecticut, n.d.).
TBI Incidence in the United States
Of the 2.8 to 5 million people who have gone to the emergency room, an isolated head injury or a combination of a head injury and other injuries were the direct cause (“Traumatic Brain Injury In the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). Most of those visits (87%) were treated in and released from the emergency department, 11% admitted and discharged, and 2% died within the building (“Traumatic Brain Injury In the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). These incidents have cost taxpayers over 153 billion dollars annually (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report to Congress, 2016). However, the 2.8 to 5 million is an estimate – this number only accounts for reported cases of those who received hospital care. It fails to account for the people who did not receive medical care, those who had outpatient or office visits, and those getting care in federal facilities (e.g., incarcerated people and veterans) (“Traumatic Brain Injury In the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). What is known is only a small fraction of the population who are struggling with this semi-invisible condition.
TBI Categorizations and Statistics
When seeking medical care, the classification of TBIs determines the course of future treatment (“Traumatic Brain Injury In the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). TBIs are classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on a clinical presentation of a patient’s symptoms. However, classifications have increasingly been challenged, as those with head injuries labeled “mild” often have chronic and treatment-resistant symptoms (see post-concussive symptoms). People experiencing such are not faking but experience psychological and psychogenic symptoms. The symptoms are more limiting and debilitating than what is medically understood (Kaufman, Bush, and Aguilar, 2019). This simple fact has profound challenges on the individual, their caregiver or family, and their social networks (The Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, 2017). Physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes are just a picture of what traumatic brain injury survivors experience. Many report financial burdens, reduce physical activity, limited social participation, depression, anxiety, and isolation as a result of their injury (The Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, 2017).
The TBI Model Systems National Database found that for those in the United States, over the age of 15 with a TBI and requiring inpatient rehabilitation, here is the representative data:
- People aged 50 and over account for 58% of TBI patients
- 64% are males
- 21% are people of color
- 60% have less than a high school education
- Falls accounted for 45 % of injuries, followed by vehicular (43%) and violence (6%)
- 31% of patients were employed at the time of their injury, and 49% were retired
- Most improvements happened during the first year postinjury
- TBI patients had a reduced lifespan of 9 years ( The Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, 2017)
- 35% of TBI patients required at least one readmission, with 40% of patients being readmitted the first 30 days after being discharged (Brio et al., 2019).
Can you identify with any of the statistics above? If so, you understand the urgency of this issue.
Why Should We Act Now?
TBIs are a public health problem that requires us to act now.
These examples show the complexities and intersections that can affect the TBI rehabilitation process. Types of injury, socio-economic status, insurance status, place of residence, expendable income, socio-support, and more impact the care that TBI patients receive and their path to recovery. Equally as important is access to cognitive and physical rehabilitation presents a barrier for TBI patients seeking care (Traumatic Brain Injury In the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). We need more studies to explore the influence of these factors on TBI care and classify TBIs as a chronic, serious health condition. Policymakers, clinical trial researchers, and public health officials need to advocate for policies that can improve access to care for TBI patients right now.
We know that when people talk about TBIs, they are often in the form of sports-related or military-related injuries. Why? Because the media focuses their reporting of TBIs on these areas only. It is good because they raise public awareness about TBIs; however, these are not the areas that experience the most considerable TBI injuries. TBIs and concussions occur mostly in children and seniors, and over 40% of TBIs and concussions are from falls, not sports. Cases need more attention. Otherwise, many people will continue to struggle with their conditions and symptoms, causing unnecessary stress and hardship.
How Power of Patients Can Help
Lynne Becker created Power of Patients to increase awareness of TBIs and advocate for better TBI burden, symptom, and rehabilitation studies. We do this by providing TBI survivors with educational materials, ways to advocate for themselves, and clinical trials. With our telehealth app, called the Patient-Reported Outcome Tracker (PROT™), also known as the Dashboard, patients can curb recall bias of symptoms and have a more personalized standard of care. The CDC even recommends that promising technologies be used to increase rehabilitation interventions and cognitive rehabilitation, and our Dashboard does just that (“Traumatic Brain Injury In the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).
This Brain Injury Awareness Month, we are committed to using our platform to unite the community and push for policies that result in better health outcomes for people living will all kinds of brain injury-related conditions. To learn more about our mission and upcoming events, follow and like us on our Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and Twitter. Sign up for our free Dashboard to track your TBI symptoms and triggers at https://www.powerofpatients.com.
Let us help you get the care that you deserve.