Study shows high incidence of brain injury in domestic violence survivors

Domestic Violence 11/05/2019

Study shows high incidence of brain injury in domestic violence survivors

More than half the victims of domestic violence suffer from brain injury, according to a recent study conducted for the Brain Injury Alliance-Nebraska in partnership with the University of Nebraska and community organizations. Findings suggest that cognitive functioning is negatively affected by domestic-violence related brain injury, which often goes unidentified.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska led the two-year Brain Injury and Domestic Violence: Making the Connection and Improving Care project, which was funded by an $85,000 grant from the Women Investing in Nebraska and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Office of Injury Prevention.

In the three-pronged study, researchers trained 900 people who work in or with domestic violence programs to recognize and manage brain injuries, used a modified screening tool to identify women with brain injuries, and then referred those who tested positive to a neuropsychologist for assessment.

The study group included Peggy Reisher, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska; Shireen Rajaram, Ph.D., University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health; Matthew Garlinghouse, Ph.D., UNMC College of Medicine Department of Neurological Sciences; and Kathy Chiou, Ph.D., Department of Psychology and Kathryn Higgins, Ph.D., Nebraska Athletic Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The group worked with the Friendship Home in Lincoln and the Women’s Center for Advancement in Omaha to complete the project.

Of the 171 women screened, the study found that 58% tested positive for brain injuries while 91% indicated that they had been hit in the head or strangled.

Additionally, Dr. Rajaram interviewed 10 women regarding their experience with the screening and the assessment. The women had various reactions when they learned that they might have a brain injury from the trauma of their domestic violence, Dr. Rajaram said.

"Despite being angry, scared and embarrassed, they were thankful that they now had an explanation for some of the cognitive symptoms they were experiencing," Dr. Rajaram said. "Most of them experienced memory loss and had problems with their concentration. These symptoms disrupted their daily activities, social relationships with family and friends and their overall quality of life."

The 900 training participants included nurses, lawyers, law enforcement personnel, probation officers, social workers and advocates. They were trained in 20 different sessions that lasted from 60 minutes to six hours, depending on the organization coordinating the training. The two largest sessions were held in partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha schools of criminal justice and criminology and social work.

The study found that:

--58% of the 171 women who were screened, tested positive for brain injury.

--Among women who were screened, 91% indicated that they had been hit in the head or strangled; 65% of the women received no medical treatment.

--31% of women reported that this happened more than six times in their life.

--64% reported losing consciousness or experienced a period of being dazed and confused.

--43% believed their cognitive problems were due to the head injury.

--33% of those screened also completed the neuropsychological assessment which demonstrated notable weaknesses in the areas of verbal memory and clinically significant impairments in the areas of visual reasoning and visual memory.

--The women most commonly experienced symptoms related to brain injury: anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, changes in relationships and difficulty concentrating.

The study recommends that an established tool be used for brain injury screenings for all people who experience gender-based violence and a thorough follow-up plan, which includes assessment services and intervention programs, be provided.

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Feature Courtesy of Nebraska Medicine