Traumatic Brain Injury


Traumatic Brain Injury

A 3D medical illustration of a human skeleton from the neck up, with a view of how the brain sits inside the head, the brain has red veins and patches of color mark its different regions

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Facts

The two age groups at highest risk for TBI are newborns to four-year-olds and 15 to 18-year-olds.

Men are 1.5 times as likely as women to sustain a TBI.

A concussion—when the brain receives trauma from impact or sudden momentum or movement change—is the most common form of TBI.

TBI can cause changes affecting thinking, sensation, language and/or emotions. It can also cause epilepsy and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

We said 'Oakley’s gone off the bridge?' It could’ve meant anything with Oakley.
Oakley was capable of anything.
						—Sigrid Heath, former member, Lexington Conservatory Theater Company

On a foggy night in July 1978, after weeks of heavy drinking, drugs and general out-of-control behavior, 28-year-old Oakley “Tad'' Hall III fell off a bridge near the Lexington Conservatory Theater in upstate New York, where he had built a reputable repertory company.

When Hall hit the rocks below, he suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) that robbed him of his ability to reason, create, comprehend and even perform the simple tasks of everyday life.

Read below to learn more about the causes and consequences of TBI.

As time went on, you began to really see that something was permanently different in Oakley, and that was tough. 
—Kate Kelly, former member, Lexington Conservatory Theater Company

A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. Brain injury is unpredictable in its consequences. It may affect who we are, the way we think, act and feel—it can change everything about us in a matter of seconds.

Each year, 1.4 million people in the U.S. sustain a TBI. Of those, 50,000 die, 235,000 are hospitalized and 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency room. The most common causes of TBI are falls, car accidents, being hit by or against something and assaults.

When the brain is injured, the functions of the neurons, nerve tracts or sections of the brain can be affected. As a result, they may lose ability or have difficulty carrying the messages that tell the brain what to do.

Brain injury can also alter the complex internal functions of the body, such as regulating body temperature, blood pressure and bowel and bladder control. These changes can be temporary or permanent.

Types of TBI

The terms “mild brain injury,” “moderate brain injury” and “severe brain injury” describe the level of initial injury in relation to severity of neurological damage to the brain.

A mild traumatic brain injury is diagnosed only when there are noticeable changes in a person’s mental status at the time of injury—if the person is dazed, confused or loses consciousness. A concussion is when a change in mental status indicates that the person’s brain functioning has been altered.

The symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury include:

  • headache
  • fatigue
  • sleep disturbance
  • irritability
  • sensitivity to noise or light
  • balance problems
  • decreased concentration and attention span
  • decreased speed of thinking
  • memory problems
  • nausea
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • emotional mood swings

Moderate traumatic brain injury occurs when there is a loss of consciousness that lasts from a few minutes to a few hours, confusion lasts from days to weeks and physical, cognitive and/or behavioral impairments last for months or are permanent. Through treatment, those with moderate traumatic brain injury generally can learn to compensate for their deficits.

Severe brain injury occurs when a prolonged unconscious state or coma lasts days, weeks or months.

Research has proven that all brain damage does not occur at the moment of impact but rather evolves over the ensuing hours and days after the initial injury, due to brain swelling.


There is no cure for a brain injury. Recovery relies on the brain’s plasticity—the ability for other areas of the brain to take over the functions of the damaged areas. Progress requires hard work from the patient and a rehabilitation team to help strengthen remaining abilities.

With treatment advances, doctors have been able to increase survival rates for brain injury victims. New drugs and procedures, which have to be employed quickly after the injury, can also help limit problems due to brain swelling.

Still, the costs—both personal and societal—of TBI continue to be high. In 1995, direct medical costs and indirect costs, such as loss of productivity, were approximately $56.3 billion. According to the CDC, at least 5.3 million Americans need life-long help as the result of a TBI.

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Learn more about traumatic brain injury victim Oakley Hall III >>


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