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Life Expectancy After Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

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What is the Average Life Expectancy for Colorado Residents?

The average life expectancy for Colorado residents in 2005 (most recent available) was 78.9 years. African-American males have the shortest life expectancy at 73.8 years, while White non-Hispanic females have the longest life expectancy at 81.5 years. [1]

Is Life Expectancy Different After Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

A recent study, funded by the Colorado Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund, looked at whether individuals with TBI have a different life expectancy than those without TBI.2 Craig Hospital and the Colorado Department of Health and environment worked together to look at information about the effects of TBI on life expectancy and what some of the risks for untimely death might be. They found that, in Colorado, individuals with TBI die of some causes at a greater rate than individuals without TBI and that some of these causes of death may be preventable. They also found that on average, TBI appears to reduce life expectancy by about 8 years.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Death in Colorado?

Individuals with TBI in Colorado share the same most common causes of death as all of the other residents in Colorado. Just like everyone else, a person with TBI needs to be aware of these common causes of death and the healthy life choices that may allow us to live longer and healthier lives. Below is a chart that shows the four most common causes of death in Colorado and compares the percentage of deaths for all Colorado residents with the percentage of deaths for people with TBI in Colorado. [1, 2]

Common Causes of DeathAll Colorado DeathDeaths for those with TBI in Colorado

Are individuals with TBI in Colorado at greater risk of some causes of death?

Yes. Individuals with TBI in Colorado are at greater risk of dying from various causes, compared to Colorado residents of similar age, gender and race without TBI. Below you will find a list of causes of death and increased risk of these causes of death for individuals with TBI in Colorado.

Cause of DeathIncreased Risk for Coloradans with TBI
Seizures15 times
Mental Conditions (includes unspecified dementia)5 times
Pneumonias3 times
Nervous System Conditions (includes Alzheimer's)3 times
Infections3 times
Digestive Conditions3 times
Assaults3 times
Suicide2 times
Cardiovascular2 times
Injuries2 times

What can people with TBI do to live a longer and healthier life?

Everyone can benefit from healthy choices and establishing healthy lifestyle habits. Making healthy choices is related to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and certain types of strokes. [4-12] You can start making healthy lifestyle changes by 1) reviewing your lifestyle in all areas of well-being: physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual, and 2) setting personal wellness goals for yourself that are realistic and important to you. [13-15]

Here are some suggestions that everyone can follow to live a healthier life. These suggestions can be beneficial for people with or without TBI:

  • Choose a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Remember to keep hydrated, drinking plenty of water every day.
  • Be active: perform some type of physical activity every day.
  • Learn to control stress in your life.
  • Don’t smoke or consume tobacco products.
  • Limit alcohol consumption and do not abuse drugs. (See below for specific recommendations after TBI.)
  • Set up a program with your doctor for regular exams and check-ups.
  • Participate in intellectual ("thinking") activities periodically (math games, crosswords, etc.).
  • Do things that are kind and helpful towards others (volunteering, helping a neighbor, etc.).
  • Consider spending time on activities that give you a sense of purpose or enlightenment.

People with TBI can also benefit from some of the following suggestions for living a healthier life. Some of these recommendations are based on research, while others are suggestions that come from experience in rehabilitation for people with TBI:

  • If you have seizures, follow all of your doctor’s recommendations, such as taking medication, following driving restrictions, avoiding alcohol, etc.
  • Learn seizure warning signs and how to respond.
  • Make sure family, friends and coworkers also know this information.
  • Follow medication schedules and talk to your doctor before making changes.
  • If you have a special diet (a liquid diet, for example), consult your doctor before making changes.
  • Follow the recommendations of your doctor and therapist for the use of equipment such as handrails, canes, walkers or appliances.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings and balance. If you have difficulty walking or use an assistive device, have someone remove the mats from your environment, keep the furniture in the same position if possible and be sure to report any changes in your equilibrium to your doctor.
  • Be careful when deciding where to go and with whom. You may have to “stop and think about it” before going to a new place or meeting new people. Are the directions clear and do you know the way? Is the area safe and well-lit, and are there potential problems related to balance or memory? Are the people you meet interested in your well-being?
  • Always have a helmet when riding a bicycle or a skateboard, when skiing and when practicing other sports where a helmet is recommended. Always wear a seat belt when getting in a car. Do not drive if your doctor did not authorize it.
  • Refrain from consuming alcohol. There is much still to be learned about the effects of alcohol on people with TBI. However, many rehabilitation experts believe that drinking alcohol after TBI can interfere with recovery and increase the risk of repeated injury. [16] Find out everything you can about brain injuries, brain injury resources and protective skills. Protecting yourself means knowing your own strengths and needs, learning resources in the community, and organizing and developing skills to successfully communicate your needs to others. [17] Having this type of knowledge has proven useful after a TBI. [18]
  • Seek positive support from those who have experienced TBI. Receiving support from those who have experienced TBI has proven beneficial. [18] You can find this kind of help by joining a support group or by becoming friends with people who have also experienced brain injury.

Become familiar with the signs and symptoms of clinical depression, such as:

  • Feeling sad or depressed for more than two weeks
  • Feeling weak, restless, or unable to remain calm
  • Changes in appetite; weight gain or loss for no apparent reason
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Thinking about death or suicide

If you are thinking about suicide, get help immediately! Call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK

Remember, although individuals with TBI may be at greater risk with respect to life expectancy, everyone can influence their health and well-being by making healthy lifestyle choices.

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Revised: 1/2015


  1. Colorado Department of Health,
  2. Thomedi Ventura, T., Harrison-Felix, C., Carlson, N., DiGuiseppi, C., Gabella, B., Brown, A., DeVivo, M., Whiteneck, G. Post-acute mortality after traumatic brain injury: Study in the population. Submitted to the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, March 2009.
  3. Schnohr, P., Scharling, H., Jensen, J.S. Changes in recreation - Physical activity and risk of death: Observation study in 7000 men and women. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2003; 158: 639-644.
  4. American Cancer Society,
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/U.S. Department of Agriculture,
  6. Djousse, L, Driver, J, Gaziano, J. Relationship between modifiable lifestyle factors and risk of heart failure during life. Journal of the American Medical Society, July 22/29, 2009 Vol. 302, No. 4
  7. Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, Rimm EB, Willett WC. Primary prevention of coronary heart disease in women through diet and lifestyle. New England Journal of Medicine. 2000; 343: 16-22.
  8. Kurth, T, Moore S, Gaziano M, Kase C, Stampfer M, Berger K, Buring J. Healthy lifestyle and risk of stroke in women. Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 166, July 10, 2006 p. 1403-1409.
  9. Friedenreich CM, Courneya KS, Bryant HE. 2001. Influence of physical activity at different ages and periods of life on the risk of breast cancer. Epidemiology. 12 (6): 604-12.
  10. Barnard, J. Cancer prevention through lifestyle changes. Alternative and Complementary Medicine Based on Evidence, 2004; 1 (3) 233-239.
  11. Ornish, D. et. al. Intense lifestyle changes can affect the progression of prostate cancer. The Journal of Urology, September 2005, Vol. 174, 1065-1070.
  12. American Cancer Research Institute/World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research, 1997. Food, nutrition and cancer prevention: A global perspective. Nutrition 15: 523-526, 1999.
  13. National Wellness Institute,
  14. O’Donnell, M. Optimal health dimensions. American Journal of Health Promotion, Vol. 1, No. 1, Pg. 5, 1986.
  15. Chase, Theresa M. Encouraging optimal health after spinal cord injury, A practical guide to promote health after spinal cord injury, Lanig, Indira, Chase, Theresa, Butt, Lester, Hulse, Kathy, Johnson, Kelly. Aspen Publishing, Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1996.
  16. Brain Injury Association of America, brochure, Substance Abuse Problems after TBI. Available at
  17. Hawley, L, (editor). Self Advocacy for Independent Life (SAIL). Colorado Brain Injury Association, 1991, 2008. Denver, Colorado.
  18. Hibbard M, Cantor J, Charatz H, Rosenthal R, Ashman T, Gundersen N, Ireland-Knight L, Gordon W, Avner J, Gartner A. Peer support in the community: Initial discoveries of a teaching program for people with traumatic brain injury and their families. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 2002, 17. (2): 112-131.
  19. National Institute of Mental Health (formerly, National Mental Health Association),
  20. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,

This resource is provided as a courtesy of Craig Hospital. For more information, contact the Craig Hospital Nurse Advice Line at 1-800-247-0257.

Disclaimer: The content in this document is intended for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. No professional relationship is implied or otherwise established by reading this document. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Many of the resources references are not affiliated with Craig Hospital. Craig Hospital assumes no liability for any third party material or for any action or inaction taken as a result of any content or any suggestions made in this document and should not be relied upon without independent investigation. The information on this page is a public service provided by Craig Hospital and in no way represents a recommendation or endorsement by Craig Hospital.

This brochure was prepared with funding from Colorado Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund. The information represents findings from a study by Craig Hospital and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. To learn more about this study, contact Cindy Harrison-Felix, PhD.