People who survive an attack with a baseball bat or metal pipe appear less likely to suffer debilitating brain damage than those severely pummeled by fists or feet, doctors reported Wednesday.

A study of 70 Detroit-area patients with head injury due to assault found that those who were beaten by bats or pipes were about twice as likely to die than those battered by unarmed assailants.However, patients who survived attacks by fists or feet were nearly twice as likely to suffer serious brain damage than those who survived a bat or pipe assault.

"That finding surprised the daylights out of us. But in retrospect, it makes sense. The goal of an assault usually is to render the victim unconscious - you can do that with one swat of a bat, but with the hands usually multiple blows are involved," said Dr. Patti Peterson, chief of neurology at Detroit Receiving Hospital.

Being hit with a bat or pipe usually causes severe bleeding at one point inside the brain, Peterson said. If that bleeding does not kill a person, the majority of patients recuperate from the injury and go home with "intact" brain function, she said.

In contrast, the majority of head trauma patients who received multiple blows from fists or feet have widespread stretching, tearing and bruising of nervous tissues within their brains, Peterson said. Such damage produces an array of neurological deficits that may render a patient "unable to think," speak well or even move properly, the doctor said.

"I'd rather be dead from being hit by a baseball bat than have that kind of cognitive (thinking) impairment," said Peterson, who was to present her findings Thursday at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Boston.

Of the 29 patients hit with wooden baseball bats, 11 percent died and 36 percent suffered so much brain damage they could not function on their own upon release from the hospital. A similar pattern was observed in the seven patients hit with metal pipes.

Just 5 percent of the 19 people struck by fists or feet died, but 68 percent of surviving patients had brain damage so severe they could not function on their own.

The remaining 15 patients were hit by an assortment of objects, ranging from bottles to fish tanks.