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New Study Finds Old Forgotten Head Injuries the Source of Many Mental/Emotional Issues

What do learning disabilities, homelessness and alcoholism have in common? They may all be related to a long-ago head injury, according to emerging research.

head injury

Even a mild or moderate head injury, such as getting hit with a softball, can cause lasting changes in your personality and mental functioning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 5 million Americans have a mental or physical disability due to such a brain injury, however this estimate is based only on hospital admissions -- and does not take into account the countless others who did not seek medical attention.

"Unidentified traumatic brain injury is an unrecognized major source of social and vocational failure," says Wayne A. Gordon, director of the Brain Injury Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York in The Wall Street Journal.

According to research from Mount Sinai, about 7-8 percent of the U.S. population has some form of traumatic brain injury -- mild, moderate, or severe. Some of these head injuries may have happened long ago, and even be completely forgotten, yet could still be impacting your life.

For instance, according to various studies by Mount Sinai researchers:

  • A 2000 study found that people who recalled a past head injury that was followed by confusion had more than double the rate of depression and alcohol and drug abuse as those who did not. They also had increased rates of panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicide attempts.

  • In a study of students with learning disabilities, 50 percent had suffered a hard blow to the head.

  • According to one Mount Sinai psychologist, about 20 percent of children with learning disabilities or behavior problems have had a traumatic brain injury.

  • In a study of 100 homeless people, 82 percent had a significant blow to the head prior to becoming homeless.

What Happens to Your Brain After a Head Injury?

In the event of a closed head injury, your brain collides with your skull, bruising brain tissue and tearing blood vessels. The rapid movement of your head (such as occurs during a car crash) may also stretch or injure your neuronal axons, which are nerve cells that link parts of your brain together, and link parts of your brain to other parts of your body. Such an injury tends to impact a wide range of functioning.

learning disabilities

Up to 20 percent of kids with learning disabilities or behavior problems may have had a traumatic brain injury.

In an open-head injury, such as from a bullet wound, the damage tends to be more focused on one area of the brain (although it can be more serious and diffuse, depending on the injury).

Brain injuries, whether mild or severe, all have the potential to impact the following:

  • Cognitive skills (concentration, learning to skills, attention span)

  • Speech and language skills

  • Personality (lethargy, aggression, mood swings, dependent behaviors)

  • Senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch)

For those who experienced a head injury long ago, researchers are realizing that the blow may long be forgotten, but the impacts could linger on.

For some, the head injury leads to irritability or depression, which turns into substance abuse. Others have a hard time juggling tasks throughout the day, and become disorganized, easily distracted or unable to hold a job.

In fact, according to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), one study found that 40 percent of people hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury had at least one problem that still lingered one year later. Most frequently, this was:

  • Improving memory and problem solving

  • Managing stress and emotional upset

  • Controlling their temper

  • Improving their job skills

What Can You Do?

Knowing how most head injuries occur, and what you can do to prevent them, is one of your best weapons against head injuries.

According to BIAA, the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries are:

  • Falls (28%)

  • Motor vehicle/traffic crashes (20%)

  • Struck by/against something (19%)

  • Assaults (11%)

In general, you can reduce your risk of head injury by:

Also, be sure to read through The Top 5 Causes of Head Injuries and How to Avoid Them for more tips on how to avoid the top causes of head injuries.

Recommended Reading

What to Do if You Cut Off Your Finger (and 9 Other Important Injury Tips)

What to Do if Your Teeth Get Knocked Out (and 9 MORE Important Injury Tips)


Mount Sinai Traumatic Brain Injury Central

Brain Injury Association of America

The Wall Street Journal January 29, 2008

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