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Long-Term Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury

Written by Berkowitz

Traumatic brain injury diagnosis on a physician chart.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.7 million cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) occur every year in the US. In most cases, the effects are temporary. In a significant fraction of all cases of moderate to severe TBI, however, the effects are long-term or even permanent. It is important to be able to predict the persistence of TBI symptoms so that you can be compensated for all of your losses – past, present and future.

Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries That Can Cause Long-Term Symptoms

Three types of head injuries are likely to produce long-term symptoms:

  • Closed head injuries: This type of injury is produced when the brain twists or collides with the skull, as in a boxing knockout. Although, in most cases, no bleeding or open wounds can be observed, internal bleeding and nerve damage are common.
  • Open wounds: Penetrating brain injuries: This type of injury is characterized by an open wound that penetrates the skull – as in a gunshot wound.
  • Crushing injuries: This type of injury occurs when the brain is squeezed between two objects – as might occur in a serious car accident. It can result in severe trauma to the skull, the neck, and the brain. Crushing injuries typically result in severe bleeding and skull fractures.

Why Symptoms of Moderate or Severe TBI Persist

After a head injury, your brain works overtime to repair the tissue damage. In many cases, these repairs are highly effective, especially when combined with treatment, and full recovery is possible. Some areas of the brain cannot be repaired, however, and some parts will even deteriorate further after the injury. Symptoms may persist for decades and, ominously, they may not even show up until some time after the accident that produced them.

Every Case Is Unique

No two cases of moderate to severe TBI are exactly alike. Variables include how hard your head was hit, the specific direction of the blow, the state of your health before the injury, and the timing and quality of medical treatment, among many other factors. All of these variables affect the nature and severity of your symptoms as well as your likelihood of full recovery. It could take months for doctors to provide you with an accurate prognosis.

Symptoms of Moderate to Severe TBI

The following is a description of the most common long-term symptoms associated with moderate to severe TBI:


Frequent headaches, including migraines, are a common symptom of moderate to severe TBI, and these symptoms often worsen over time. If you are still experiencing frequent headaches six months after your injury, it is reasonably likely that they will continue over the long term, even if all of your other symptoms disappear.


One-third of victims of moderate to severe TBI are still suffering from vertigo or light-headedness five years after the injury. This symptom improves over time for some victims, however.

Excessive sensitivity to light and noise

Sensitivity to light and noise, reminiscent of a bad hangover, is one of the symptoms of TBI that is most likely to disappear over time. It does become a long-term problem for some victims, however. You may even first develop these symptoms up to three years after your accident.

Impaired vision

The brain is intimately involved in vision processing, and brain damage can lead to an inability of the eyes to focus on nearby objects. This symptom can lead to blurred vision and double vision as well.

Frequent fatigue

TBI victims often suffer from both physical and mental fatigue, and in serious cases, this symptom worsens over time. Fatigue can also lead to social, psychological, sleeping, and employment problems.


Up to 40 percent of TBI victims suffer from late-stage seizures, and this percentage increases with the seriousness of the injury. In many cases, this symptom becomes a long-term problem known as post-traumatic epilepsy. Having a seizure immediately after the accident, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a long-term problem will develop.

Degenerative brain diseases

Victims of moderate to severe TBI often develop long-term neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The likelihood of developing such a disease increases with the seriousness of the head injury. The risk is also dramatically higher among people who have experienced more than one TBI (a professional athlete, for example).

Emotional and cognitive symptoms

A variety of emotional and cognitive symptoms may develop as a direct or indirect result of moderate to severe TBI. Some of these symptoms might not arise until a significant time after the accident, and some may persist throughout the lifespan. In many cases, these symptoms improve over time. The most frequent of these symptoms includes:

  • impaired memory;
  • impaired thought processes;
  • inability to manage time;
  • impaired concentration and attention span;
  • depression;
  • irritability;
  • anxiety; and
  • personality changes, such as aggressive behavior.

The emotional problems can be exacerbated if you are also suffering from physical symptoms such as chronic pain.

Lifestyle Difficulties

Beyond direct physical symptoms, moderate to severe TBI can exert a devastating impact on your lifestyle. Some of the most common challenges are detailed below.

Increased mortality rate

TBI symptoms and their complications shorten average life expectancy. Furthermore, certain symptoms, such as depression and chronic pain, dramatically increase the risk of suicide. The mortality rate is particularly high among people engaged in high-risk professions, such as professional athletes, who sustain further head injuries.

Unemployment or underemployment

Most victims of moderate to severe TBI are not working full-time even several years after the accident. To compound matters further, some victims struggle with financial management as a direct symptom of their injury.

Social isolation

Most victims of severe TBI struggle with engaging in leisure activities, resulting in social isolation that, in turn, creates further psychological difficulties and lowers their overall quality of life. Imagine, for example, how chronic pain could affect your social life over a period of years or even decades.


Sometimes, accidents aren’t anybody’s fault. In most cases, however, fault can be traced to someone who either did something (or didn’t do something) that substantially contributed to the accident. When the at-fault party is someone other than the person who was injured, a personal injury claim arises under personal injury law. The following is a rundown of the type of compensation you may be entitled to and how you go about proving it.

Economic damages

Economic damages are damages for which it is relatively easy to assign a dollar value – medical expenses, for example, and lost earnings. The hard part, at least when you expect to suffer from long-term TBI symptoms, is calculating your future losses.

Non-economic damages

Non-economic damages are mostly designed to compensation for the intangible psychological costs of your injury, such as:

  • physical pain and suffering;
  • mental anguish;
  • loss of enjoyment of life; and
  • emotional distress.

It is not intuitively obvious how one might go about assigning a dollar value to losses such as these. Nevertheless, courts do it every day, as do insurance companies negotiating private settlements. Although the total amount of non-economic damages often far exceeds the total amount of economic damages, a lot depends on the factual details of each particular case.

The two most widely used ways of calculating non-economic damages are:

  • The multiplier method: Under this method, non-economic damages are set at a certain multiple of economic damages – three times the amount of economic damages, for example.
  • The per diem method: Under this method, a certain amount of money is assigned to each day of your suffering, and this amount is then multiplied by the number of days you endured (or are expected to endure) the suffering.

Comparative Fault

What if the accident that injured you was partly your fault? Suppose, for example, you fell down a flight of stairs when the stairway railing collapsed, but you were intoxicated at the time. In cases where the victim was partly at fault, Connecticut law allows two possible outcomes:

  • If the accident was mostly the victim’s fault, the victim will receive nothing.
  • If the accident was mostly (or even 50 percent) the defendant’s fault, but partly the victim’s fault, the victim’s compensation will be reduced in proportion to his degree of fault – by 30 percent, for example.

If there is any possibility of blaming you for the accident, you can be almost certain that the defendant will seize upon it to reduce his liability as much as possible. A skilled TBI lawyer could come in very handy under such circumstances.

Calculating Future Damages

Even if you have a clear idea of the amount of your losses to date, can you say with certainty what your financial needs will be, say, 40 years from now? How would you go about proving how much you might need years or even decades into the future? It is absolutely critical that you get your calculations right and demand the amount you need. Because if you run out of money years from now, you won’t be able to go back and ask for more. 

Future damages are typically calculated by an experienced lawyer with the help of your doctors, a psychologist (for non-economic damages), and even an economist (to estimate your future lost earnings). Not only will experts be required to calculate your long-term damages, if your case goes to trial, you will also need experts to testify on your behalf.

Strike While the Iron is Hot

TBI-related personal injury claims are typically complex and require a lot of preparation. A successful claim for a catastrophic injury, however, could result in a very large amount of compensation. If you are suffering from TBI that you believe may have been caused by someone else’s misconduct, call Berkowitz Hanna ASAP or contact us online 24/7 to schedule a free initial case consultation.