Dying Too Young: Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors More Likely to Die Early Deaths

A recent study by British and Swedish researchers found that individuals with traumatic brain injuries are three times more likely than people in the general population to die prematurely, particularly from suicide, injuries and assaults.

The report, which was published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on the medical records of patients in Sweden over a 41-year period. In what is viewed as the largest analysis of its kind, investigators from Oxford University and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm concluded that people who survived moderate to severe TBIs had a higher chance of dying before the age of 56.

The results of this study could produce a much closer analysis of brain injury patients over the long term. In addition, experts believe this report points to the potentially deadly effects of brain injury, even though there are still some troubling unknowns.

The researchers theorized that because many TBIs happen in parts of the brain that regulate judgment, executive function and impulse control, individuals who live with these injuries may not have the mental ability to protect themselves from hazardous situations. Therefore, they are at higher risk of premature death.

Statistics From the Study

The researchers analyzed the medical records of 218,300 Swedes born after 1953 and diagnosed with TBIs from 1969 to 2009. In addition, the study narrowed its focus to a sample of people who survived at least six months after their brain injuries. Of these individuals, 2,378 (1.1 percent) died before their 56th birthday. This was triple the rate of a control group consisting of 2.2 million people who did not have TBIs. Also, the comparison acknowledged age, sex, income and other significant demographics.

Among individuals in the brain injury group, 574 died due to accidents and 522 from suicides. Their accident rate was more than quadruple that of the control group, while the suicide rate was more than triple. In general, researchers found the primary causes of early fatalities in TBI survivors were suicide and terminal injuries, including injuries from car accidents and falls.

Moreover, fatality rates were high even five years after the brain injury occurred. Investigators said that brain injury patients were more inclined to be risk takers, which could help explain the death rates.

To add yet another layer to these findings, the subjects of this study had a greater likelihood of psychiatric disorders or substance abuse problems. Not only did this type of background increase their chances of having a brain injury, it also enhanced their risk for suicide or fatal accidents.

Yet even with these important details in mind, the figures demonstrate that TBIs were at the core of these fatalities. In general, people with mental diseases or chemical addiction issues had much higher rates of premature deaths when TBIs were involved.

Concussions, which are often referred to as mild TBIs, were examined separately in this investigation. People who live with concussions were seen as twice as likely to die at a younger age than the control population. Such findings could lead to more attention to victims of sports injuries and the effect of their brain trauma.

Recommendations

The study’s authors recommended numerous methods to prevent TBIs from taking place worldwide, including use of helmets, enforcement of laws against drugged driving and better road design to reduce accidents.

They also suggest that people in high-risk groups participate in psychiatric assessments and subsequent treatment.

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