Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is a term used to describe an injury to the brain that occurs after birth; it is not related to a hereditary or congenital condition.
- Traumatic brain injury (eg caused by a motor vehicle accident, fall, sporting injury, or assault);
- Brain Tumour;
- Infection (eg meningitis, encephalitis);
- Lack of oxygen to the brain or hypoxia (eg from drowning, cardiac arrest, drug overdose);
- Toxic exposure (eg prolonged or excessive use of alcohol and drugs, carbon monoxide poisoning, solvent sniffing).
Progressive conditions like dementia are often considered separate from an acquired brain injury.
Changes after ABI
There can be many different changes that occur after an ABI. Every brain injury is unique and the changes will depend on the type, severity and location of the brain injury, as well as on the person’s pre-injury personality and abilities, and the support available afterwards. Some of the common changes are listed below.
- Visual and hearing problems;
- Loss of taste and smell;
- Dizziness and balance problems;
- Weakness and paralysis;
- Slurred speech;
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Difficulty learning and remembering new information;
- Attention and concentration problems;
- Difficulty with judgement and decision making;
- Trouble planning, organising and starting tasks;
- Slower thinking and response speed;
- Communication difficulties;
- Perseveration (getting “stuck” on an idea or topic);
- Limited insight or awareness.
Emotional and Behavioural:
- Reduced confidence and self-esteem;
- Low mood and depression;
- Apathy and loss of motivation;
- Irritability or anger;
- Impulsivity and self-control problems (acting before thinking);
- Personality changes;
- Social isolation or withdrawal.
The Hidden Disability
It is difficult to predict how well someone will recover after an ABI. While many people with an ABI show a very good physical recovery, research suggests that 60% of people with moderate to severe brain injury experience ongoing cognitive, emotional and behavioural changes. This means that people with an ABI on the surface appear to have made a full recovery. However, the hidden challenges, such as fatigue, cognitive (memory and attention) and emotional difficulties are often not seen or understood by others. These hidden disabilities can have a profound impact on a person’s life.
Adjustment after a Brain Injury
It is normal to experience a range of emotions, such as sadness, grief, frustration and anger after a life-altering event such as a brain injury. A change or loss in previous abilities and independence, life direction or roles (eg worker, home maker, driver) can create a gap between what we’ve got after an injury and what we had before and want back. With this gap comes emotional pain and suffering. If these feelings persist and start to affect social, home and work life, then it is important to seek help.
Assessing & Treating Psychological Conditions after Brain Injury
People with an ABI are at an increased risk of experiencing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. The direct effect of the injury on the brain, issues with grief and loss, adjustment to disability, coping skills and level of support all contribute to this increased risk.
Diagnosing depression and other mental health conditions in people with ABI can be complicated as there is overlap in the symptoms. For example, poor motivation, irritability, fatigue, and trouble concentrating can be seen in both depression and ABI. It is important to seek help from a mental health professional who understands brain injury.
Conditions like depression and anxiety can impact on thinking skills such as memory and concentration. Treating these conditions can improve thinking skills and your quality of life.
Author: Dr Megan Broughton, BA Hons (Psych), PhD (Clinical Psychology & Clinical Neuropsychology), MAPS, MCCLP, MCCN.
Dr Megan Broughton is a Clinical Psychologist and neuropsychologist, with over 10 years’ experience in assessing, diagnosing and treating clients with a range of psychological and neurological conditions. She is passionate about helping adults and their family members cope with challenges associated with health conditions, accident, ageing, or disability.
To make an appointment with Dr Megan Broughton, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.
- Newby, G., Coetzer, R., Daisley, A., & Weatherhead, S. (2013). Practical neuropsychological rehabilitation in acquired brain injury: A guide for working clinicians. London: Karnac Books.
- Whelan-Goodinson R, Ponsford J, Johnston L, Grant F. (2009). Psychiatric disorders following traumatic brain injury: their nature and frequency. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 24, 324-32.