We have known for a long time that young survivors of even so-called “mild” traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more likely than others to develop problems with alcohol and drug abuse than people without TBI. They are also more likely to have problems with irritability or aggressiveness, including explosive outbursts, which can be set off by minimal provocation. This is consistent with research showing that 76% to 88% of prisoners have a history of traumatic brain injury.

That’s why many people define “mild” traumatic brain injury as an injury to anybody who is not in your family.

So it is not surprising to learn that a new study shows a significantly increased death rate for survivors of “mild” traumatic brain injury in the 15 years after injury.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh have published a study in the Journal of Neurology, NeuroSurgery and Psychiatry, which looked at the mortality and morbidity fifteen years after hospital admission for a large number of patients who sustained a mild traumatic brain injury.

The study included 2,428 adults with mild traumatic brain injury and an equal number of community controls who were case-matched for age, gender and social deprivation. The researchers also included a further control group admitted with non-brain injury that was also matched for duration of hospital admission. Any control member with a history of head injury prior to the study was excluded.

They found that age at injury was important as younger adults (15-54) with mild brain injury had a 4.2 greater risk of death than the control group. In adults age over 54 the risk of death was 1.4 times higher. Repeated brain injury was also a risk factor for death in the mild traumatic brain injury group.

The researchers concluded, “Adults hospitalized with [mild traumatic brain injuries] had a greater risk of death in the following fifteen years in matched controls. The extent to which lifestyle and potential chronic changes in neuro pathology explain these findings is unclear. Lifestyle factors do contribute to risk of death after MHI and this finding has implications for lifestyle management interventions.”

While the study does not include a deep analysis of specific causes of death, it is common sense that increased risky and antisocial behavior, along with alcohol and drug abuse, does increase the risk of bad outcomes including early death.


Ken Shigley is an Atlanta trial attorney focused on serious personal injury and wrongful death cases. He is currently chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Previously he served as president of the State Bar of Georgia and chair of the board of trustees of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice and a board certified civil trial attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy.