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Neurologists urged to screen for domestic violence and traumatic brain injuries

Domestic violence is a major cause of traumatic brain injuries.  Unfortunately, many victims of domestic violence do not received adequate screening for brain trauma and many practitioners fail to even screen patients for domestic abuse.  

The American Academy of Neurology has now recognized the importance of routine screening for domestic violence and traumatic brain injury in a new position statement published online and in the February edition of the journal, Neurology.

The statement also notes that anyone who is physically or cognitively impaired is at a higher risk for abuse and abusive treatment, and that such treatment can also effect the development of neurologic disease.

Research shows that more than 90% of injuries stemming from intimate partner violence occur to the head, face, or neck region, which may lead to traumatic brain injury.

In addition to integrating questions about abuse into the medial history, patients may also be asked about abuse directly. Optimally, this should happen when they are alone; this is essential when questioning children about abuse. Appropriate questions may include:

•Have you ever witnessed violence?

•Have you ever been hit, kicked, punched, or otherwise physically abused?

•Has anyone ever tried to control you by threat or intimidation?

•Have you ever felt controlled or isolated by your partner?

•Have you ever been forced to perform sexual acts?

•Have you ever been taken advantage of financially?

•Have you ever been concerned for your safety?

If spousal abuse is identified, the neurologist also should ask whether child abuse is also occurring.

The American Academy of Neurology joins several other professional organizations that have also encouraged screening for abuse. In 2008, for example, the American Medical Association advised physicians to routinely ask about the family violence histories of their patients, noting that this knowledge is essential for effective diagnosis and care.

An American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee has also recommended that obstetricians and gynecologists to routinely and periodically screen all women for intimate partner violence.

Victims of domestic abuse may be able to bring a lawsuit against their spouse for brain damage. The brain injury law firm of De Caro & Kaplen, LLP, can provide legal advice and assistance.

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