A vast majority of battered women have suffered head injuries that are hard to recover from, a new study suggests.
Eighty-one percent of women who've suffered domestic abuse and sought help have suffered a head injury and 83% have been strangled, researchers discovered.
"One in 3 women in the United States has experienced intimate partner violence. What we found leads us to believe that many people are walking around with undiagnosed brain injury, and we have to address that," said lead researcher Julianna Nemeth. She's an assistant professor of health behavior and health promotion at Ohio State University.
Those figures also suggest that brain injury caused by head injuries and by oxygen deprivation is likely a long-term problem for many domestic violence survivors, according to the researchers.
"Brain injury was not something we really talked about much until now. It wasn't part of any routine training and we're trying to address that now because of what we learned from these survivors," said study co-author Rachel Ramirez, training director for the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.
"Almost all of the best-practice recommendations for TBI [traumatic brain injury] are focused on athletes and soldiers, and some of the guidance is impractical for our population," Ramirez explained in a university news release. "These women could be having trouble being able to plan for the future, to make decisions about their safety, to come to appointments, to do their jobs. Many have likely been wondering for years what's going on with them."
Nearly half of the survivors in the study said they'd been hit in the head or had their head shoved into objects "too many times to remember," the researchers said.
More than half said they were choked or strangled "a few times" and 1 in 5 said that happened "too many times to remember."
Some of the survivors experienced both types of attacks multiple times.
The study, which included 49 domestic violence survivors from Ohio and 62 staff and administrators from five agencies in the state, was published recently in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma.
Previous research recognized that brain injury can occur in domestic violence, but this study is the first to reveal that many survivors have likely suffered repeated head injury and oxygen deprivation. That could contribute to problems such as memory loss, difficulty understanding, loss of motivation, nightmares, anxiety, and vision and hearing troubles, Nemeth explained.
"Nobody really knows just what this combination of injuries could mean for these women," Nemeth said. "When we looked at our data, it was an 'Oh my gosh' moment. We have the information we need now to make sure that people recognize this as a major concern in caring for survivors."
The U.S. Office on Women's Health has more about domestic violence.