Get smarter about brain injuries

Living and Aging Well: Column by Ellen Kordonowy
Posted 1/7/20

The statistics are staggering and alarming. Every 23 seconds a person sustains an injury to the brain in the United States. In Colorado alone, there are more than 500,000 individuals who have …

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Get smarter about brain injuries


The statistics are staggering and alarming. Every 23 seconds a person sustains an injury to the brain in the United States. In Colorado alone, there are more than 500,000 individuals who have sustained an injury to the brain and are living with a disability. The effects of brain injury can include impaired thinking, memory, movement, sensation (e.g. vision or hearing), or emotional functioning (e.g. personality changes or depression). Fatigue and cognitive challenges are the two most commonly reported outcomes of Coloradans with brain injury.

What is a brain injury?

An acquired brain injury (ABI) is any type of damage to the brain acquired after birth and which is not hereditary, congenital, or degenerative. Causes of ABI include external forces applied to the head and or neck (traumatic brain injury), anoxic/hypoxic injury (cardiac arrest, carbon monoxide poisoning, airway obstruction, hemorrhage, drowning), intracranial surgery, infectious diseases, seizure disorders, toxic exposure (substance abuse, ingestion of lead, inhalation of volatile agents), aneurysms, and vascular obstruction (stroke).

Brain injury affects the whole person, including changes in the physical, emotional, and cognitive areas of the body. These changes can impact how a person reacts to his or her daily life, including school and work, and how s/he manages his or her finances. Relationships and a person’s well-being are determined by how well he or she can manage these challenges. The road can seem long and insurmountable, especially without help.

What is a traumatic brain injury?

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.

What causes TBI?

The leading causes of TBI are:

• Falls (47%)

• Motor vehicle crashes (14%)

• Struck by/against (15%)

• Assaults (11%)

• Other/unknown (13%)

Blasts are a leading cause of TBI for active duty military personnel in war zones.

Who is at highest risk for TBI?

• Males are about 1.5 times as likely as females to sustain a TBI.

• The two age groups at highest risk for TBI are 0- to 4-year-olds and 15- to 19-year-olds.

• Certain military duties (e.g., paratrooper) increase the risk of sustaining a TBI.

• African-Americans have the highest death rate from TBI.

Colorado data

• Colorado ranks ninth in the nation in fatalities due to a TBI and 13th in the nation in hospitalizations due to a TBI

• Almost 5,000 individuals are hospitalized and nearly 1,000 die due to a TBI in Colorado each year

• 23,500 emergency room visits each year are due to a TBI

• The age groups with the highest risk of sustaining a TBI in Colorado are 15-24 and 65-plus

What are TBI long-term consequences?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 6 million Americans currently have a long-term or lifelong need for help to perform activities of daily living as a result of a TBI.

According to one study, about 40% of those hospitalized with a TBI had at least one unmet need for services one year after their injury. The most frequent unmet needs were:

• Improving memory and problem solving

• Managing stress and emotional upsets

• Controlling one’s temper

• Improving one’s job skills

TBI can cause a wide range of functional changes affecting thinking, language, learning, emotions, behavior, and/or sensation. It can also cause epilepsy and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders that become more prevalent with age.

“Every one of us has a story of brain injury through personal experience, whether it is a friend, relative, client or provider. We all know someone who has had a stroke, been in some type of accident, has had a concussion, or near-drowning, etc. To those who don’t have a brain injury, be an encourager to them, a supporter, a listener, and don’t let their injury define them in your eyes. And to survivors, keep trying, be courageous, celebrate your achievements and don’t give up.” - Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado (BIAC) client

For more information about brain injuries in Colorado, visit BIAC online at

This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next meeting on Feb. 6 at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, 9203 S. University Blvd, Highlands Ranch. Our presentation and community conversation will begin at 10:15 a.m. This month’s topic is “Get Smarter About Brain Injuries” and our speaker is Ellen Kordonowy with the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado. For more information about the meeting, please visit, email or call 303-663-7681.


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