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What is the 'silent epidemic' associated with brain injuries?

Traumatic brain injuries, regardless of their severity, can have long-lasting effects on those who suffer them. Sometimes TBI survivors don't even realize all the ways that their lives are impacted by their injury. One of these effects, which researchers have called a "silent epidemic," is a disruption in sleep patterns, or "sleep-wake disorders."

A study conducted in Switzerland found changes in the quality of sleep, when people became sleepy and how long they slept. Researchers at University Hospital Zurich studied 31 people who had suffered varying degrees of TBIs and another 42 people without TBIs over 18 months to see how their sleep patterns compared. The subjects did some self-reporting, but they also were monitored with electronic devices and underwent observation.

The study's author said they discovered that "the majority of those with TBI, no matter how severe, had long-term sleep disturbances, yet didn't know." They also slept on average an hour longer each night than those without injuries.

One element of these sleep disturbances that could be particularly dangerous is excessive sleepiness during the day. That was measured via a test to see how quickly the subjects fell asleep when placed in a quiet environment in the daytime.

Two-thirds of those in the TBI group demonstrated excessive daytime sleepiness, compared to 19 percent in the control group. Interestingly, however, the TBI survivors were no more likely to report feeling excessively tired during the day than those with no brain injury.

That's why it's essential, the study's author says, that doctors monitor TBI survivors for sleep-wake disorders. Daytime sleepiness could lead to car accidents and other injuries.

The number of people who suffer serious head injuries is increasing. In 2010, these injuries accounted for approximately 2.5 million hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths. They can be caused by vehicle accidents, falls and athletic activities. They're also a growing problem among military personnel.

When people suffer a brain injury, it may take days, weeks or longer for some effects to manifest themselves. That's why it's important for you and those close to you not to ignore behavioral and other changes that could be injury-related.

Ongoing medical evaluation after a brain injury is essential. If you take legal action against a person or entity responsible for your injury, your attorney should work to ensure that you receive sufficient compensation to cover medical treatment and therapy for as long as you need it.

Source: CBS News, "Traumatic brain injuries linked with lasting sleep problems," Ashley Welch, accessed May 24, 2016

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