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Traumatic Brain Injury

What is a traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a serious public health problem in Wisconsin and in the United States. Traumatic brain injuries are caused by a bump, blow, jolt, or penetration to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Each year, traumatic brain injuries contribute to a substantial number of deaths and cases of permanent disability.

What causes a traumatic brain injury?

Unintentional falls were the main cause of deaths, hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Other causes of traumatic brain injury include self-harm, motor vehicle crashes, assault, and work or sports-related injuries. There were about 61,000 traumatic brain injury-related deaths in the United States in 2019, or about 166 traumatic brain injury deaths every day. Causes of injury vary across levels of severity: minor traumatic brain injury or concussion, moderate TBI, and severe TBI.

Who is at increased risk of traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injuries affect the lives of people of all ages. Anyone can experience a TBI, but data suggest that some groups are at greater risk of dying from a TBI or experiencing long-term health problems after the injury. Examples of groups who are more likely to be affected by TBI, include:

  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Service members and veterans
  • People who experience homelessness
  • People who are in correctional and detention facilities
  • Survivors of intimate partner violence
  • People living in rural areas

Learn more about health disparities and TBI.

What can I do to prevent TBI?

  • Buckle your seatbelt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle.
  • Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Wear a helmet, or appropriate headgear, when you or your children:
    • Ride a bike, motorcycle, snowmobile, scooter, or use an all-terrain vehicle
    • Play a contact sport, such as football, ice hockey, or boxing
    • Use in-line skates or ride a skateboard
    • Play baseball or softball
    • Ride a horse
    • Ski or snowboard

What can older adults do to protect themselves from falls?

  • Talk to your doctor about your risk for falling. Ask what specific things you can do to reduce your risk for a fall.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. Your list should include prescription medicines, over-the counter medicines, herbal supplements, and vitamins.
  • Have your eyes checked at least once a year. Be sure to update your eyeglasses or contact lenses, if needed.
  • Do strength and balance exercises to make your legs stronger and improve your balance.
  • Make your home safer, for example, remove rugs or other tripping hazards

What can parents do to protect their younger children?

  • Install window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows.
  • Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around.
  • Make sure your child’s playground has soft material under it, such as hardwood mulch or sand.

The Impact of TBI in Wisconsin

In 2020:

  • There were nearly 1,500 deaths involving TBIs.
  • Almost 9,800 nonfatal emergency department visits and 4,200 hospitalizations involved TBIs.
  • Falls were the leading cause of nonfatal TBI hospitalizations (62%), and accounted for 46% of TBI-related emergency department visits and 41% of deaths.
  • Adolescents aged 15-19 had the highest rate of emergency department visits (335 per 100,000 in 2020) with TBI.
  • People 85 and older had the highest rates of nonfatal hospitalizations with TBI (517 per 100,000). These hospitalizations are indicative of greater severity of injury, especially among older adults.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), Division of Public Health, Office of Health Informatics. Wisconsin Interactive Statistics on Health (WISH) data query system, Injury-Related Mortality, Hospitalizations, Emergency Department Visits Modules, accessed 3/21/2022.

Prevention Efforts


  • Prevention: DHS is working to increase stakeholder skills to engage in policy education and development around teen driving safety in order to decrease motor vehicle-related TBIs.
  • Surveillance: Using death, hospitalization, and emergency department visit data, DHS disseminates and reviews data to inform policy development.

Learn about facilities that provide treatment for traumatic brain injuries.

The Center for Disease Prevention and Control's (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (Injury Center)

Additional Resources

Brain Injury Alliance of Wisconsin (BIAW)

Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA)

Brain Injury Recovery Network

Brain Injury Resource Center of Wisconsin (BIRCofWI)

Last revised March 23, 2022