An Invisible Connection: Traumatic Brain Injury & Domestic Violence

Content Warning: This post and the articles discussed/linked contain discussions of domestic violence.

One in four American women will experience violence from a domestic partner in their lifetime, often resulting in significant trauma to the head and neck known as a traumatic brain injury. It is estimated that millions of women experience traumatic brain injuries (TBI) due to domestic violence (DV) every year and over 75% of domestic violence survivors suffer single or repeated traumatic brain injuries, most of which go unreported.

For many survivors of domestic violence, the impact of TBI on thinking and memory lasts long after the abuse ends. Even mild cases of traumatic brain injury, like concussion, can impart significant and long-lasting issues, and a single incident in which TBI occurs can result in long-term cognitive damage. Repeated physical abuse can accelerate the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and may even result in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a fatal form of progressive brain degeneration that can only be diagnosed after death.

Despite these alarming statistics, the relationship between TBI and domestic violence remains largely unknown and critically under-researched. The connection between the two may be obvious in retrospect, but until these injuries are consistently screened for in domestic violence cases and also more regularly discussed, they cannot be addressed as they need to be. Talking about domestic violence is difficult, and many women may struggle to share their stories due to stigma, the threat of partner retaliation, and/or the lack of accessible medical care.

Raising awareness of the signs of domestic abuse can help more women come forward and receive the care and support they need – but the right systems must be in place for that to happen. Here at Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter, we are committed to providing that care and support and ensuring those systems are readily available for those who need them. In addition to funding research to better understand the connections between DV-TBI and CTE, people can support survivors by educating themselves about the signs of domestic violence and traumatic brain injury, how the two are connected, and championing domestic violence prevention organizations like ours.

For more information and resources about this subject please visit these web pages: