That's a Head Injury; This is Not

Traumatic brain injury education lacking in 80 percent of veterans

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Veterans can identify the headaches, loss of consciousness and dizziness that characterize a mild brain injury. But a number of other symptoms unrelated to the injury incorrectly get caught up in the mix.

Only 1 in 5 veterans reported being educated in mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI) while serving in the military, according to a recently published study.

Though vets and their families both were able to identify TBI symptoms, they could not discern between false TBI symptoms at the same time.

Understanding the factors that contribute to brain injury misconceptions will help develop and disperse more targeted educational programs, researchers said.

"Head injury? Get it checked out."

The aim of the study was to see whether the knowledge veterans and their friends and families had about mild TBIs was accurate. Every year, at least 1.7 million TBIs from blows or jolts to the head occur as isolated injuries or accompanied by other incidents.

Researchers, led by Cady Block, MS, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, looked at 100 veterans and 50 of their friends and family at VA Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

Most of the veterans were male and almost two-thirds served in the Army. Navy and Marines followed behind at about 11 and 9 percent respectively. More than 40 percent reported having been in combat previously.

Participants were about 50 years of age and had 13 years of education on average. A little more than half the participants were white and more than a third were African American.

Though most of the veterans were male, eight out of 10 relatives and friends were female.

Participants were given a 60-item survey including questions on 22 common TBI symptom complaints, including physical, cognitive and psychological symptoms.

The survey also included items used for the general public to determine brain injury knowledge and TBI misconceptions.

Researchers found that four out of five veterans reported they did not receive brain injury education while in the military.

In addition, both groups identified true mild TBI items but also claimed a number of other symptoms that were not characteristic of a mild head injury.

What TBI knowledge the veterans did have was unrelated to their own self-reported cases of TBI. Information often came through magazines, film and TV, including fictitious medical series like Grey's Anatomy and House.

About 80 percent of veterans, friends and family did not obtain TBI information through the Internet.

"Accurate knowledge regarding mild TBI should exist prior to, during, and continuously following service," researchers wrote in their report.

"The existence of accurate knowledge and perceptions of brain injury among veterans and other relevant groups, including those responsible for disbursal of important services, creates an environment in which survivors are more likely to receive care congruent with their needs."

Researchers noted that the number of participants was limited and the findings might not be representative of all veterans, their families and their caregivers.

Future research should further investigate veterans' knowledge of TBI in multiple areas, such as physical, cognitive and psychological, researchers said.

Other research should also investigate TBI knowledge levels in vets prior to and after following an educational program.

The study, which did not receive any outside funding, was published online March 21 in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 5, 2013
Last Updated:
April 9, 2013