A 41-year-long Swedish population study, recently published in the American Medical Association’s Psychiatry Journal (JAMA-Psychiatry), shows a causal link between traumatic brain injury and a heightened risk for premature death. “Premature death,” for purposes of the study, was classified as dying before the age of 56. According to researchers, excluding all other factors, premature death was three times more likely for brain injury patients who survived at least six months following diagnosis.

Interestingly, the risk of premature death increased much more dramatically in patients with a preexisting psychiatric disorder at the time of their brain injury; those patients were 20 times more likely to die prematurely, most commonly from suicide, assault or a subsequent injury.

Details of this landmark study

The study, led by researchers at Oxford University in England, looked at population data from Sweden for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) diagnosed in patients born after 1954 who were diagnosed with a TBI between 1969 and 2009. In total, researchers tracked more than 218,000 patients, a significant sample size; many authoritative scientific studies are much smaller in scale. Data examined involved records of “serious” head injuries (those resulting in skull fracture, internal bleeding or loss of consciousness for more than an hour), from the time of the initial diagnosis through to the patient’s death.

American experts weigh in

Researchers consistently found that patients who had suffered at least one TBI had a markedly higher chance of premature death, additional TBI and future psychiatric condition diagnosis (like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder). American neurologists and experts not involved in the study extrapolate that similar findings will likely apply to people suffering from so-called “mild” brain trauma like concussions.

Though no definitive testing has been done with American patients, preliminary research performed on professional football players and members of the military involved in explosions suggest that concussions – particularly repeated concussions – can have an impact on a person’s life and could lead to premature death.

Repeated head trauma, such as that seen in contact sports and in career military personnel who have seen combat, is believed to cause Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a condition causing mood changes, impaired reasoning skills and other issues directly related to decreased brain function. Well-known American athletes Junior Seau and Ryan Freel, both of whom committed suicide, were posthumously diagnosed with CTE.

Practical applications: the importance of prompt action

With such high stakes on the line following a brain injury, receiving prompt treatment to minimize the lasting side effects is paramount. When head injuries are suspected (e.g., a person has a visible head wound, is suffering from amnesia, lost consciousness, was involved in an accident witnessed by others, etc.), it is important to get medical care as soon as possible. Doctors may be able to lessen the impact that the injury has on the victim’s brain by relieving swelling, infusing medications or performing other procedures. Given the high cost of neurological treatment, though, some people may fear the expense associated with their own or a loved one’s brain injury; that is where an experienced personal injury attorney can help.

Have you suffered a traumatic brain injury due to another person’s negligence? Did a loved one tragically succumb to their effects of their brain trauma? Would you like more information about holding the person or entity responsible for the injury accountable? If so, a brain injury lawyer in your area can educate you about your legal rights and options.