Is Brain Injury a Disease or a Disability?

Posted by Marilyn Lash, M.S.W. on 29th Dec 2010

How many times have you heard traumatic brain injury referred to as an “incident” or an “event” or an “outcome”? How often have you used the term “survivor” to mean the person who is living with a brain injury?

Dr. Brent Masel is challenging the way we think about and treat traumatic brain injury. In his paper Conceptualizing Brain Injury as a Chronic Disease, he proposes that traumatic brain injury is the beginning of a disease process. Backing up his view with scientific evidence, he reasons that TBI is not a static condition. A TBI affects multiple organ systems. The long-term effects of a TBI can continue for many years. Epilepsy, visual disturbances, sleep disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, endocrine disorders, incontinence, psychiatric diseases, sexual dysfunction, spasticity, fractures – these are the more common disorders or diseases that may follow a TBI. Masel argues that “As a result of their brain trauma, these individuals now have life-long brain injury disease.”

Classifying TBI as a disease may have significant impact on reimbursement for medical treatment by insurers. Given the current controversy over insurance payment for cognitive rehabilitation, I encourage you to join this discussion and share your views on TBI – a disability or a disease? What do you think?