There is a group of women who face the same acquired brain injuries as football players, but nobody knows about them. They suffer from headaches, dizziness, disorientation and confusion but are largely undiagnosed.

They are the women who suffer physically from domestic violence. One woman says that over the course of a two-and-a-half year abusive relationship, she was hit in the head around 15 times and was violently shaken.

The Sojourner Centre, a large domestic violence shelter in Phoenix, Arizona, has begun a world-first program aimed at studying brain injury in women and children who have been subjected to domestic violence. The program will examine how common domestic violence-related brain injury is, investigate short-term and long-term effects, develop domestic violence-specific tools to screen for head trauma, and provide individualized treatment plans.

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“These women are falling through the cracks,” said Maria E. Garay, the CEO of Sojourner Center who is spearheading the initiative. “This is a public health epidemic. The fact that no one is tracking this is, to me, a crime.”

While there have been studies done into the brain injuries of football players, there is no data on the physical injuries women and children in abusive relationships have sustained or their long-term impact.

Initially, it’s thought that as many as 20 million women in America could have brain injuries caused by domestic violence. This roughly equates to about 6% of the population that previously have fallen through the cracks in terms of diagnosis and treatment.

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Symptoms of acquired brain injury include headaches, double vision, imbalance, decreased motor ability, problems with memory, irritability and depression. In some severe cases, it will render a victim unable to drive a car, find a job or be independent – which may make it difficult to leave an abusive relationship. But the vast majority of people with these types of brain injuries, with treatment, can overcome them and lead fully functioning lives.

In Australia, there is very little awareness of domestic violence and acquired brain injuries, except in children. Seven percent of children admitted to the New South Wales Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program were there due to injuries inflicted by a domestic abuser. This seems to validate the preliminary findings of the American study – that around 6-7% of women and children suffer from acquired brain injuries due to domestic violence.

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