Domestic Violence and Brain Injury

What is Brain Injury?

An acquired brain injury (ABI) is the result from damage to the brain, which occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease. Changes may be short- or long-term potentially leading to disability or challenges participating in the community.

A brain injury may be acquired non-traumatically or traumatically. Non-traumatic brain injuries result from internal forces such as loss of oxygen (caused by strangulation, substance use, etc.), stroke, tumors, and metabolic disorders, to name a few. Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) result from external forces directly or indirectly impacting the brain. Common causes include falls, assaults, motor vehicle collisions, and others.

Related changes after injury may or may not be overtly evident, or seen by the naked eye, making stigma often present for people living with brain injury. Understanding of the changes after injury is the first step in identifying and connecting with individuals.

Physical Changes

  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Coordination
  • Perception
  • Sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Pain

Cognitive Changes

  • Processing
  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Language
  • Planning
  • Motivation
  • Decision-making

Emotional Changes

  • Regulation
  • Affect
  • Expression
  • Congruence
  • Lability
  • Mental health
  • Control

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.

Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of domestic violence/abuse can be occurring at any one time within the same intimate relationship.

For more information on abuse, the power wheel, and warning signs of domestic violence, visit The National Domestic Abuse Hotline or call their 24/7 line at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). All calls are free and confidential. There is also an online chat feature on their website.

What’s the Connection?

There is a significant relationship between brain injury and domestic violence that needs to be acknowledged. Research on abused women shows that between 40 to 92 percent of victims of domestic violence suffer physical injuries to the head; nearly half of these women report that they have experienced strangulation, according to research published in October 2017 in the Journal of Women’s HealthSince an individual does not need to lose consciousness of black out to experience a TBIs, brain injury can be an unrecognized result of domestic violence and intimate partner assaults. One study found that a positive loss of consciousness on at least one occasion was reported in 30% of the respondents, and yet 67% of women reported residual problems that were potentially head-injury related.

Symptoms of TBI and ABI, such as confusion, amnesia/memory loss, and loss of consciousness may make it difficulty for individuals to realize a brain injury has occurred and interfere with planning and decision-making. Multiple traumatic or acquired brain injuries, acquired traumatically or non-traumatically, can lead to cumulative cognitive, physical and emotional challenges over time and therefore make disengaging from the situation almost impossible.

How Do We Move Forward?

Educate yourself on the physical, cognitive, and emotional/behavioral symptoms of brain injury. Some may be more overt and some more hidden due to memory challenges, outbursts or violent behaviors, mental health conditions, substance misuse, and others.

Screening for domestic violence and brain injury history can be essential in determining safety. Using the HELPS screening tool or Ohio Screening Tool can help to identify TBI among individuals experiencing or who previously experienced domestic violence.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, first call 911 if you are in danger or have been injured. The national domestic violence hotline, 800-799-7233, is available 24/7. Most major cities also have shelters to help victims of domestic violence.

 Learn More

Shining a Light on Traumatic Brain Injury and Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence’s Overlooked Damage: Concussion And Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury: The unseen impact of domestic violence

 Find Resources

Brain Injury Resources


Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC):

TBI Model System Centers:

Brain Injury Association of America:

NC Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) TBI Program:

Administration for Community Living (ACL):

Domestic Violence Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline: | Phone:  1-800-799-7233

Domestic Violence Awareness Project:

North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

Lauren Costello