Study: Alaska leads nation in traumatic brain injury deaths

snow machine

Suicide, falls, violence, and snowmachines: A study of data gathered between 2016 and 2021 shows that Alaska has the highest traumatic brain injury-related death rate in the United States, surpassing the national average by more than double. The study was published by the State of Alaska’s Section of Epidemiology this week.

About 43% of all TBI-related deaths in Alaska were attributed to suicide, with young adults disproportionately affected.

Individuals between the ages of 25 and 34 experienced TBI-related mortality rates from suicide that were over three times the national average in 2019. Additionally, one in four deaths among individuals under the age of 30 were connected to TBIs.

Unintentional falls accounted for a significant proportion of traumatic brain injuries in Alaska, contributing to 39% of TBI-related emergency department visits between 2016 and 2021, and 44% of TBI-related hospitalizations from 2017 to 2021.

Among adults aged 15 to 34 years, motor vehicle crashes were the most common cause of both TBI-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Unintentional falls dominated as the primary mechanism of injury for emergency room visits among individuals 35 years and older, as well as for hospitalizations among those 45 years and above.

The study revealed several other demographic statistics:

  • The mortality rates were higher among those 85 years and older, and among males, American Indian/Alaska Native people, and those residing in the Northern Region of the state.
  • Patients hospitalized following a TBI in Alaska with evidence of intentional self-harm were over eight times more likely to succumb to their injuries than those with unintentional injuries.
  • Alaska Natives have a disproportionately higher rate of TBI-related mortality, with an age-adjusted rate exceeding three times the national average.
  • Rates of TBI attributable to assault were significantly higher among males, being 1.6 and 3.7 times higher than females for emergency visits and hospitalizations, respectively.
  • In terms of TBI-related hospitalizations, motor vehicle crashes took precedence in the Southwest and Northern regions, with all-terrain vehicle and snowmachine-related injuries accounting for a striking 39% of all TBI hospitalizations in the Northern region.

TBIs occur when individuals experience a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function, ranging from mild to severe cases that can lead to prolonged unconsciousness, coma, or even death.


  1. It’s a reality of the life we choose to lead. Those of us outside the nanny state of Anchorage.

    We live in a tough place with lots of rewards that come with serious risks.

    The ongoing issue of violence in the native communities does need to be addressed. Especially in the bush villages.

    Perhaps AFN? Seems they have time on their hands and a bit of a credibility problem.

  2. More brain injury occurs in Alaska’s public schools and in the state-wide university system. Less risk on snowmobiles and sidebys.

  3. Wow, some real startling statistics here. Head injuries caused by unintentional falls? Especially with young people? Evil snowmachines and ATVs out to hurt us? People who intentionally hurt themselves have a greater chance of dying than those of accidents? Who knew? Higher mortality rate for those over 85? Never would have guessed that! I’m so thankful to these gov’t agencies for keeping me safe!

  4. Once again, why are suicide stats included here? I can understand gathering data on stuff such as vehicle accidents and slip/falls. It even makes sense to study exactly who has the highest and lowest numbers in these categories. But why include suicides? Suicide numbers need to be in their own category simply due to their ‘imaginative’ mechanics. I.e., why would we include suicide by throwing oneself into traffic in car/pedestrian accidents? Same as people that try to include suicide by firearm in categories such as murder or accidental death.

    Separate those numbers out and it just looks like we are rowdy people that love to do physical stuff. We cannot legislate human behavior into being perfectly safe, nor should we want to. All those injuries we had growing up made us understand that the world is a rough place and prepared us to face it. So be reasonably safe out there. Were protective gear and teach your kids the safe operation of sports gear and vehicles. Then have fun.

    • As far as I can tell, suicides are lumped in to any category where they can have political and PR impact.

      Nothing else makes sense.

    • Paul in the Valley, I’m not certain but there appears to be a correlation between head trauma and a later suicide attempt. Apparently it is fairly common amongst Football players and Veterans who have served in combat. Evidently those IED bombs with their concussions also are damaging.

  5. Sledding accidents hitting a boulder or tree is another recreation incident kids are prone to have and kids are climbing ravines and sustaining falls.

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