Potential Long-Term Effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury


What is a traumatic brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a type of brain damage that occurs as a result of an injury to the head. This type of injury may be non-penetrative, such as a blow to the head, or penetrative, such as a gunshot wound. The severity of a TBI depends on various factors, and the lasting effects can range from a few days to permanent brain damage or, in severe cases, death. A concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury.

Long-term effects

Long-term effects associated with TBI can be numerous. Although some symptoms may improve over time, others can become permanent. Lifelong rehabilitation may be necessary. Below are various potential long-term effects of a TBI.

Cognitive skills

  • Memory problems
  • Loss of sense of time or space
  • Problem-solving difficulty
  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • Judgment issues
  • Decreased awareness of self or others
  • Amnesia
  • Shortened attention span
  • Inability to understand abstract concepts
  • Inability to understand multistep requests

Motor skills

  • Tremors
  • Poor balance
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Delays in movement
  • Spasticity (tightening or shortening of muscles)
  • Paralysis
  • Weakness
  • Decreased endurance
  • Poor coordination

Sensory skills

  • Altered sense of vision, hearing, taste, smell or touch
  • Difficulty with spatial awareness
  • Left- or right-side neglect
  • Vision problems, such as lack of visual acuity, limited range, double vision, etc.
  • Heightened or decreased sensation of body parts

Communication issues

  • Slowed speech
  • Difficulty identifying objects and their function
  • Difficulty reading, speaking, writing, or choosing the right words to say
  • Inability to form coherent sentences
  • Difficulty working with numbers
  • Difficulty understanding speech or writing
  • Decreased vocabulary

Functional problems

  • Inability to drive a car or operate machinery
  • Difficulty with activities of daily living, including dressing, eating, bathing, etc.
  • Difficulty with organization, shopping, paying bills, etc.

Social complications

  • Impaired social capacity
  • Difficulty understanding or reciprocating nuances of social interactions
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends

Regulatory changes

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Change in eating habits
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

Post-traumatic Headaches

A common type of chronic pain caused by a TBI is post-traumatic headaches. These are secondary headaches that typically develop within a week of the incident.

Traumatic epilepsy

Seizures or epilepsy may occur following a TBI, especially when severe or penetrative injuries are the cause. Normally, these seizures begin immediately after or within a year of the injury. However, in some cases, seizures may occur years after the incident.

Degenerative brain diseases

It is unclear whether certain degenerative brain diseases can result from a TBI, although research suggests they may be related. Degenerative brain diseases that can cause a gradual loss of brain functionality include the following:

  • Alzheimer’s impacts a person’s memory and thinking skills over time.
  • Parkinson’s causes issues with movement, including rigidity, tremors, and slowed movement.
  • Dementia pugilistica is often associated with the repeated blows to the head that a boxer may experience. It can cause symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, difficulty communicating, confusion, personality changes, etc., along with movement problems.