The BART Foundation’s mission is to promote better outcomes for brain injury survivors by answering three questions – which alternative therapies are likely to work, where can they be found, and how can they be afforded? One of the ways we fulfill our mission is by carefully watching global research and clinical trial outcomes and sharing that information in user-friendly language with the TBI/ABI community.

Today, we’d like to share with you a story from NPR, Domestic violence is now recognized as a leading cause of traumatic brain injury, which was published in March, 2024. NPR has recently begun reporting on domestic violence as a leading cause of TBI. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York State sees differences between the brains of battered women and those of athletes with repeat concussions.  In this post, we will share the transcript of the interview but encourage everyone to visit the NPR website to listen to the entire recorded piece online (no paywall or log-in needed).


A MARTÍNEZ, HOST: Domestic violence is now recognized as a leading cause of traumatic brain injury, and there are hints that this kind of physical abuse produces a distinct pattern of damage in the brain. NPR’s Jon Hamilton has been reporting on this research. He joins us now. First, though, a warning – this conversation will include some graphic descriptions of physical violence.

Jon, how common are these traumatic brain injuries?

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Unfortunately, very common – there was a national survey a few years ago, and it found that about 1 in 3 women has, at some point in her life, experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner. Researchers say that most of these women have also had at least one concussion or what a doctor would call a mild traumatic brain injury. And of course, men and nonbinary people are also affected by this sort of violence. So in all, we’re talking about millions of people.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. I mean, that makes a lot of sense. We hear a lot about these kind of injuries in sports. Are the ones that occur in the home that much different?

HAMILTON: Well, they probably are. The way they occur is certainly different. So a boxer might take a punch to the head, and a football player may collide with somebody. But when one person assaults another, there are lots of ways that damage can occur. I spoke with a woman named Maria Garay-Serratos, who grew up in a violent home, and she described just some of the ways she saw her father abuse her mom.

MARIA GARAY-SERRATOS: There was choking. There was a lot of shaking, objects thrown at her, shoved against the wall, thrown against appliances, dragged by her hair in the yard.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, see, that’s shocking – and different from what we see, say, on the football field. So I wonder if that means that the brain damage from these assaults is also different.

HAMILTON: Well, it looks like it can be. And shaking, for example, can lead to this sort of whiplash injury in the brain. If somebody throws a glass bottle, say, it can fracture the skull and damage a specific brain area. And choking – it cuts off the blood supply to the brain and damages blood vessels, and that can result in a brain injury that is a whole lot like a stroke.

MARTÍNEZ: Is it possible to look at an injured brain and tell whether the cause was probably domestic violence?

HAMILTON: Not yet, but there are some researchers who think domestic abuse may leave this sort of signature in the brain. One of those scientists is named Dr. Rebecca Folkerth. She’s with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. And she was part of a study that looked at the brains of women who had died with a documented history of intimate partner violence. And she told me that those brains didn’t look like the ones from athletes who’ve taken a lot of blows to the head.

REBECCA FOLKERTH: And it suggests that, while they are getting repetitive brain injuries, it’s of a different sort.

MARTÍNEZ: Why have we heard so much about traumatic brain injuries in contact sports, just like football, but not in this particular setting?

HAMILTON: There are a couple of reasons. I mean, one is that when a boxer or a football player takes a hit to the head, you know, it’s seen by so many people – sometimes millions on TV. But violence in the home is often invisible, and it tends to go unreported. There’s still a lot of stigma. People who have been abused often fear that reporting what happened will lead to more violence. There’s another reason, though, and that is that there just hasn’t been that much research on head injuries from domestic violence. And the good news is that that is starting to change.

MARTÍNEZ: That’s NPR’s Jon Hamilton. Jon, thanks.

HAMILTON: You’re welcome, A.

MARTÍNEZ: And if you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Their website is

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.