What are the Long-Term Effects of Head Trauma?

The Long Term Effects of Head Trauma Vary Across Individuals

Long-term effects of head trauma depend on how severe the initial injury is, if the brain was traumatized, and the extent of damage to structures such as the eyes and facial nerves.

One of the most debilitating injuries of head trauma is traumatic brain injury.

Long Term Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury

Mild traumatic brain injury has been associated with chronic insomnia, difficulty concentrating, eye strain, and depression.

Because the effects of mild brain injury are difficult to detect on current imaging tests, it’s important to report these symptoms or other concerns to the primary treating doctor right away.

The long term effects of moderate and severe brain injury have been clearly documented. They can range from physical disability to memory loss and permanent alterations in personality.

There is a complex relationship between the factors that affect how the brain responds to an injury, and how the individual copes with those changes.

If the head trauma victim has additional injuries such as broken limbs or spinal cord trauma, recovery is more difficult. A past history of cognitive or psychological problems such as depression can pose unique challenges and need to be addressed early.

How well a person fares over the long term also depends on the resources available to receive rehabilitation. The earlier a well-structured rehab program begins, the better.

Getting consistent and long-term physical and psychological support, even after discharge home, helps head trauma victims heal better.

Long-Term Cognitive Effects

Changes to concentration, memory, attention span and motivation affect all aspects of a head trauma victim’s life. If the injury happens while still in school, it can delay completing one’s degree.

Individuals who have already joined the workforce may find that changes to concentration and memory make it harder to be successful.  

Over time, one’s ability to work and life-long earning potential may be affected. Depending on the injuries, it is more challenging to complete a job retraining program, because learning new skills takes longer. Additional disabilities such as vision or hearing problems, paralysis, and limb loss need to be accommodated through occupational rehabilitation.

Psycho-Social Effects

Depression often manifests after a head trauma, with individuals who have a history of depression being particularly susceptible.

Head trauma can burn, scrape or shear tissues off the face. Nerve damage can also interfere with normal facial expressions. This is very upsetting to the head trauma victim. Changes in appearance affect self-identity, self-confidence, and willingness to re-enter the community. This results in a long-term reduced quality of life.

Family and friends often report personality differences, impatience, and angry outbursts.

Emotional highs and lows can happen. When this is combined with other cognitive challenges, symptoms get in the way of one’s ability to work and succeed in the social environment. Receiving mental health support is important and can lessen these complications.

Motor & Sensory Effects

Research indicates that micro tears and cellular death in the brain, affect how signals travel from the brain to the body to deliver commands. While this delay may not be noticeable for coarser movements such as walking or reaching for an object, it affects finer movements. Fine motor control is needed for writing, doing art, or working in detailed environments such as electronics and engineering.

Head trauma and brain injury can alter the eyes’ ability to focus, which is called accommodation. The eyes are no longer able to track small or rapid movements as quickly. Even if this process is only delayed by a fraction of a second, it still results in feelings of fatigue, difficulty concentrating and eye strain. Depth perception may be off, so the brain takes longer figuring out how to react to environmental signals.

How one understands and responds to non-verbal signals when engaging with other people may be altered, and cause a sense of social isolation and insecurity.  


It is important to remember that long-term effects are unique to each person’s individual injuries. The severity of the head trauma, associated injuries and personal history make a big difference in outcomes. Working closely with medical specialists and the rehabilitation team helps each individual get the specific care they need, and is proven to improve long-term outcomes.


James D. Kretlow, Ph.D.,1 Aisha J. McKnight, M.D.,1 and Shayan A. Izaddoost, M.D Facial Soft Tissue Trauma; Facial Trauma; Semin Plast Surg. 2010 Nov; 24(4): 348–356.

Thiagarajan, P., & Ciuffreda, K. J. (2014). Effect of oculomotor rehabilitation on accommodative responsivity in mild traumatic brain injury. Journal Of Rehabilitation Research & Development, 51(2), 175-191. doi:10.1682/JRRD.2013.01.0027

Wheeler, L., & Puskar, K. (2015). Veterans with comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury: the nurse practitioners role in facilitating treatment. Journal Of Military & Veterans' Health, 23(1), 42-46.

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