Brain damage from domestic abuse is the biggest unknown epidemic there is….
Concussions in athletes have received attention in recent years, but experts are now looking to also address the needs of a large, yet overlooked, population – domestic abuse victims.
One in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime. There are 10 million victims of domestic abuse a year, of which 76 percent are women, said Dr. Glynnis Zieman of the Barrow Neurological Institute.
And that number is underreported, she added.
Most of the blows from an abuser are to one of the most vulnerable parts of the body and, over years of daily and weekly incidents, those hits take a toll.
“In a domestic violence situation, a lot of the abuse is focused on the head,” said Jonathan Lifshitz, director of the Translational Neurotrauma Research Program at the University of Arizona.
Lifshitz said that football players, who encounter significant blows but are supported by on-hand medical assistance at games and in the off-season, have a different brain-injury reality than abuse victims.
“Where does this woman go? She has to live it. The opportunity for recovery is very different,” he said.
Brain injury research has followed soldiers after combat and professional athletes but the subjects have been mostly male, Zieman said. Researchers are just beginning to understand the differences between men and women with concussions.
Women typically have smaller heads and weaker necks than men, Zieman said. Female athletes are nearly 1½ times more likely to get a concussion than male athletes playing the same sport.
Women are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and migraines, all of which are common concussion symptoms. That complicates diagnosis and recovery, she said.