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A Hidden Problem: Brain Injuries to Domestic Violence Victims

The numbers of domestic violence victims suffering from traumatic brain injuries dwarf those of football players and soldiers, but have received far less attention to track and treat the problem, the New York Times Magazine reports. Women whose heads had been repeatedly battered may be more vulnerable to concussions, but nearly all the research into neurodegenerative disease comes from studying male brains. “So much money goes into investigating concussions in sports that those protocols and papers go on to shape the way concussions in general are thought about,” says Stephen Casper, a historian of neurology at Clarkson University. “There’s no money to be made from studying intimate-partner abuse.”


Every year, hundreds of concussions occur in the N.F.L.; thousands occur in the military. Eve M. Valera, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and a leading researcher on traumatic brain injuries among survivors of domestic violence, estimated the number of annual brain injuries among survivors of domestic abuse reaches 1.6 million. PTSD shares many symptoms with traumatic brain injuries, and research suggests that roughly 65 percent of domestic-violence victims may experience it. But much of the research on PTSD has overlooked brain injuries. “You could treat that PTSD for a long time and not have a person who comes out functioning better, because they have a brain injury that hasn’t been recognized and diagnosed and treated,” says Danielle Eagan, a clinical neuropsychologist at Barrow Neurological Institute’s Concussion & Brain Injury Center in Arizona. Many victims have gone through years of psychotherapy only to hit a wall. In 2019, the National Institutes of Health began funding a study using brain imaging and other tools to understand the health impacts of traumatic brain injuries on domestic-violence victims, and this year the C.D.C. plans to begin collecting data on traumatic brain injuries and strangulation through its continuing National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

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