The brain controls everything we say, do, think, and feel. It keeps us alive through breathing, circulation, digestion, hormones, and the immune system. Through the brain, we experience emotion and express ourselves.
“Weighing less than sixteen hundred grams (three pounds) the human brain in its natural state resembles nothing so much as a soft, wrinkled walnut. Yet despite this inauspicious appearance, the human brain can store more information than all the libraries in the world. It is also responsible for our most primitive urges, our loftiest ideals, the way we think, even the reason why, on some occasions, we sometimes don’t think, but act instead.” – from The Brain by Richard Restak, M.D.
Brain injury refers to the occurrence of an insult to the brain which causes damage. Because each injury damages a different part of the brain, every injury is unique and often described as either traumatic or acquired based on the particular cause.
The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) has developed the following definitions:
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of such an injury may range from “mild,” i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to “severe,” i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury. A TBI can result in short or long-term problems with independent function.
Acquired brain injury (ABI) is an injury to the brain that is not hereditary, congenital or degenerative.
Acquired brain injuries are caused by some medical conditions, including strokes, encephalitis, aneurysms, anoxia (lack of oxygen during surgery, drug overdose, or near drowning), metabolic disorders, meningitis, or brain tumors.
Although the causes of brain injury differ, the effects of these injuries on a person’s life are quite similar.
Whatever the cause, a brain injury can, according to the Brain Injury Association of America, result in “an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning. It can also result in the disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning.” Cognitive consequences can include memory loss, slowed ability to process information, trouble concentrating, organizational problems, poor judgment and difficulty initiating activities. Physical consequences can include seizures, muscle spasticity, fatigue, headaches and balance problems. Emotional/behavioral consequences can include depression, mood swings, anxiety, impulsivity and agitation.
Brain injury affects not only the individual, but also the family, close friends, coworkers and other social networks of the individual. Roles and relationships change. The financial ramifications may be extensive.
Brain injury has been called the “silent epidemic” because public recognition of brain injury is extremely low despite the staggering number of people who are injured each year.
The effects of brain injury are often invisible to an unknowing observer. Likewise, the visible effects of brain injury—such as physical impairment, behavioral issues, and even cognitive deficits—are often not properly attributed to brain injury.
Over 1.7 million people in the United States sustain traumatic brain injuries each year, but only 250,000 of those are hospitalized. This number does not include people with acquired brain injuries. The annual incidence of TBI alone is higher than that of breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and HIV/AIDS combined.
Of the 1.7 million who sustain a TBI each year in the United States:
- 52,000 die;
- 250,000 are hospitalized; and
- 1.3 million are treated and released from an emergency department.
The number of people with TBI who are not seen in an emergency department or who receive no care is unknown.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health & Senior Services’ New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research:
- It is estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 New Jersey residents suffer brain injuries from traumatic events each year, of which 1000 are fatal. Approximately 175,000 New Jersey residents currently live with disabilities from traumatic brain injuries.
- Leading causes of traumatic brain injury are motor vehicle crashes, falls, assaults, and self-inflicted injuries.
- A majority of traumatic brain injuries effect a segment of the population under 35 years of age.
- Brain injury rates rise sharply after age 65, primarily due to an increased incidence of falls.
- The age pattern of brain injury is similar for all racial and ethnic groups.
The Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey maintains an Information & Resources Helpline that can provide more detailed information about brain injury, including articles on brain injury. To learn more, please contact one of our Information and Resources Specialists, at the Family Help Line, 1-800-669-4323, the main Alliance number 732-745-0200, or visit the Contact Us page to send us an email. You may also borrow books and videos on brain injury free of charge from our Browse and Borrow Library. For a complete listing of books and videos available, visit our Library Page. The Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey also has a collection of free publications on brain injury. For a complete listing of publications, visit our Publications Page.