An acquired brain injury (or ABI) is damage which occurs to the brain after birth.
There are many types of acquired brain injury, including:
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) – those resulting from an external force impacting the brain. Leading causes would be car crashes, sporting injuries, falls and self-harm.
- Strokes – occur when the supply of oxygen or nutrients to part of the brain is temporarily obstructed. There are two types, an ischaemic stroke where a blood vessel is blocked; and a haemorrhagic stroke where a blood vessel bursts.
- Alcohol related brain impairment (ARBI) – over consumption of alcohol can result in physical damage to the brain with a variety of symptoms including memory issues, mood changes, physical numbness.
- Other drugs – Most drugs can have an impact on the brain but those designed to alter our experience (such as Cannabis and Ice) can have strong effects resulting in long lasting damage. This may take the form of cognitive impairments and negative mental affects such as hallucinogens and paranoia.
- Dementia – an umbrella term for many diseases which result in a physical decline in the brain. This decline results in changes to cognitive functioning, such as memory, and personality changes, including increased mood swings.
- Other – There are many other causes of an acquired brain injury including (but not limited to) drowning, multiple sclerosis, poisons, tumours and infections.
It is difficult to predict how many individuals have an acquired brain injury, due to the many different types. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated 1 in 45 individuals had a life restricting ABI.
Individuals aged 65 years or above were twice as likely to have acquired brain injury which limited their everyday living. Males were also more likely to have an ABI compared to females.
It is also possible to have more than one acquired brain injury. Many types of ABIs are linked with an increased risk of dementia and it is easy to see how any impairment impacting our physical ability, could result in a fall and another brain injury.
The severity of an acquired brain injury can range from those which take a few days/weeks to heal, to long-term comas and death. In between these are acquired brain injuries which result in long lasting effects such as cognitive and physical impairment. The severity of an ABI also depends on the individual and their circumstance; an ABI for someone who was reasonably healthy can be different to the same ABI to someone who was not.
Treatments for Acquired Brain Injury
Most people with an acquired brain injury require considerable medical support in the initial aftermath. This could be a visit to a General Practitioner or to the emergency department of a hospital.
What happens after that depends on the circumstances – some will require medication, in the short or long-term. Moderate to severe cases might require long term support from medical/health practitioners and other professionals who can help the individual adapt to life with an ABI, such as counsellors, psychologists, occupational therapists, and social workers.
It must be noted that treatment does not mean cure. Though long-term treatment can reduce symptoms to the point where others might not notice them, most individuals with acquired brain injury will notice the difference from how they were before the ABI occurred. This can be a source of distress which a counsellor or psychologist is trained to help with.
Return to Work
Work is an activity which is not only useful for covering living expenses, it also gives meaning to our lives. An acquired brain injury can change our relationship with work. Some individuals can return to work quickly, others take time, and others might need to change careers or stop work altogether due to the severity of their injury.
Adjusting to life with an acquired brain injury may be facilitated by talking to a counsellor/psychologist. They can also help you see your experience from a different view; as well as space to just be, and to grieve what was lost.
Author: Hannah Jensen-Fielding, BA (Psychology) Hons, M Couns., PhD Candidate.
Hannah Jensen-Fielding is a Brisbane therapist working from a strengths-based integrative approach, as she believes more momentum is gained by looking forward at the future and who we can become. She is experienced in working with individuals suffering from cognitive decline, including those who have an acquired brain injury.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traumatic Brain injury & concussion. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html
- Department of Health & Human Services. (2018). Alcohol related brain impairment. Retrieved from www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/alcohol-related-brain-impairment
- Disability in Australia: Aquired brain injury. (2007). Retrieved from www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/1f719b27-6b93-434a-b0e6-997b4ead061a/bulletin55.pdf.aspx?inline=true.
- healthdirect. (2017). Acquired brain injury (ABI). Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/acquired-brain-injury-abi
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Health consequences of drug misuse. Retrieved from www.drugabuse.gov/publications/health-consequences-drug-misuse/neurological-effects
- Shively, S., Scher, A. I., Perl, D. P., & Diaz-Arrastia, R. (2012). Dementia resulting from traumatic brain injury: what is the pathology? Archives of Neurology, 69(10), 1245-1251. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.3747
- Stroke Foundation. (2019). Types of Stroke. Retrieved from www.strokefoundation.org.au/About-Stroke/Types-of-stroke