Screening for Brain Injuries Should Be Part of Routine Medical Care

Suffering a blow, or repeated blows, to the head, strangulation, a fall or other head injury can cause a traumatic brain injury leading to short or long term negative consequences. Unfortunately, most brain injuries go undiagnosed. 

The Brain Injury Association of Virginia (BIAV) is committed to changing that. In an ideal world, people would get screened for brain injury routinely, says Executive Director Anne McDonnell, BIAV, who has a plethora of facts related to the negative consequences of undiagnosed, untreated brain injury.

Here are a few:

There’s a tremendous link between brain injury and mental health diagnoses. Brain injury is a risk factor for depression, and depression is a risk factor for brain injury. Brain injury is a significant risk factor for becoming involved in the criminal justice system. Studies have shown that up to 100 percent of persons on death row have a history of brain injury. A significant percentage of young people in the juvenile justice system have had at least one brain injury. 

 McDonnell also notes that brain injury is a significant risk factor for homelessness. “Study after study shows persons who got a brain injury, and became homeless because they lost their job, they can’t remember to take care of things, they can’t get along with their neighbors, they don’t have insurance. It’s a horrible trickle effect that all starts with the brain suffering an injury.” 

One of the BIAV’s main activities is spreading the message about the importance of screening for brain injury, through education, outreach, public awareness and advocacy. They are working with domestic violence programs around the state to raise awareness of how a traumatic brain injury can impact a survivor’s ability to recover and receive needed services. 

Working with the Department of Social Services (DSS) presents an opportunity to ensure that children get screened for brain injury, says McDonnell.  There are families under stress, and children are often experiencing the brunt of that stress. “We’re hoping that DSS will start screening all the kids they are working with for brain injury, so that we can get them early intervention and change the trajectory of their lives.”

Screening is absolutely critical for ensuring that an individual gets the appropriate care they need. “If you’re treating somebody that has a brain injury and you don’t know that they have a brain injury, your treatment will be ineffective because it has to be delivered in the context of their challenges. It would be like giving diabetes drugs to a cancer patient.”

The BIAV’s website lists six questions for screening for a brain injury. They are: 

  1. Was your head hit?
  1. Were you choked, suffocated, shaken or strangled?
  2. Did you lose consciousness or feel dazed or confused? 
  3. Are you having trouble concentrating, organizing or remembering things?
  4. Are you experiencing emotional changes such as irritability, sadness or lack of motivation?
  5. Are you experiencing headaches, vision and/or hearing problems or loss of balance?

If you answered Yes to one or more of these questions, seek medical help as soon as possible. The BIAV provides personalized information and referral assistance to clients, and technical assistance to professionals. For more information, call 1-800-444-6443.

For more information about the organization, visit their comprehensive website: