What is Acquired Brain Injury? | MyCareSpace

What is Acquired Brain Injury?

Illustration of side view medical imaging of brain and head

What is Acquired Brain Injury?

An acquired brain injury (ABI) is the result of damage to the brain.

Brain damage may be a caused by:

  • Trauma or injury to the head (referred to as a traumatic brain injury)
  • Stroke
  • Drugs, alcohol or poisons
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain for an extended time (for example, a near-drowning)
  • infection
  • Tumour
  • Neuro-degenerative conditions can impact the brain, such as:
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia
  • ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)


Acquired Brain Injury or Traumatic Brain Injury?

Traumatic brain injury falls under the umbrella of acquired brain injury.

A traumatic brain injury typically results from trauma to the head. This can range from a minor-modetate blow to the head which may lead to a concussion, or a more severe injury. This is a closed brain injury.

An open brain injury involves a foreign object which breaks the skull and penetrates the brain. This is typically more severe. More serious injuries will lead to more severe and permanent disability.

A primary injury describes a sudden and profound injury that occurs at the time of the traumatic event taking place.

Secondary brain injury involves the changes to the brain following the primary injury in response to the trauma event. This leads to further damage to brain tissue and can occur over a period of hours to days following the primary injury.


Acquired Brain Injury - The Symptoms

Different sections of the brain control different functions of your body. When the brain is injured, one or more body functions will be impacted.

The location of the injury and brain damage that has occurred will typically impair the body function in which that area of the brain controls.

As an acquired brain injury can occur in a variety of ways, brain damage can cause a range of different problems for injured individuals.


Physical Effects

A brain injury can result in physical issues, such as:

  • Paralysis or weakness, experienced in one more more areas of the body
  • Spasticity (tightening or shortening of muscles)
  • Difficulties planning movement, impacting walking, standing, sitting, reaching etc
  • Reduced balance and coordination
  • Fatigue 
  • Tremors and/or seizures

Severe physical impairment may require use of assistive technology, such as a wheelchair, adjustable bed, transfer aid etc, and require a high need for person to person support.


Cognitive Effects

Cognitive effects of an acquired brain injury can change throughout the rehabilitation process. Some symptoms associated with acquired brain injury include:

  • Memory problems, such as amnesia
  • Reduced attention span
  • Difficulties with judgment, problem solving and decision making
  • Reduced capacity to remember and follow instructions
  • Reduces awareness of self and others

Cognitive impairment may mean you require additional support with organising and engaging in your activities of daily living.


Behavioural Effects

An acquired brain injury can have an impact on your:

  • Personality
  • Mood
  • Behaviours
  • Irritability and the sense of feeling on edge

Changes to behaviours can have an impact on your social functioning, including difficulties managing in social settings and developing and maintaining relationships.


Perceptual or Sensory Effects

An acquired brain injury can result in:

  • Changes in vision, smell, taste and touch
  • Reduced sensation or heightened sensation
  • Neglect of the right or left side

These difficulties impact how you interact with your routines and your environments. Due to reduced perceptual or sensory skills, the risk of injury is heightened.

If possible, it is important to learn how to compensate for these deficits to continue with your day to day activities.


Communication and Language Effects

Difficulties resulting from an acquired brain injury include:

  • Reduced speaking and understanding skills
  • Reduced reading and writing skills
  • Reduced vocabulary skills

Communication difficulties can impact your ability to engage in conversation and socialise.


An acquired brain injury will impact your capacity to engage in day-to-day activities in one way or another. Support needs may be minor, moderate or maximal.

Maximal support needs may require 24 hour care and use of assistive technology and equipment in an accessible environment.


Is an Acquired Brain Injury the same as an Intellectual Disability?

An intellectual disability involves the impairment of general intellectual abilities and skills throughout the developmental life stage. This spans from birth to 18-25 years. It is unlikely for you to develop an intellectual disability beyond this life stage.

A decline in cognitive function later in life is likely attributed to a neurological condition that results in an acquired brain injury.

The similarities between acquired brain injury and intellectual disability are that they both can result in an impairment of:

  • Conceptual functioning - language, reading, writing
  • Social functioning - relationships, social-communication skills, empathy

The difference between acquired brain injury and intellectual disability is that an acquired brain injury is the result of an accident or injury to the brain or developing a neurological condition.

An intellectual disability relates directly to how the brain develops and functions during the developmental life stage which can cause lifelong cognitive and physical impairment into adulthood.

A mental health condition or illness is also not considered a brain injury, however there are some similarities in symptoms related to changes in behaviours, mood and cognition.


Acquired Brain Injury Recovery

The recovery from a brain injury relies on several factors:

  • The nature of the injury
  • Access to emergency health care services, including surgery if required
  • Acute rehabilitation immediately following the injury
  • Ongoing intervention over the the medium to longer term

With intervention, some people with a brain injury may see a full or partial return to their previous function. For others, returning to how they functioned prior to the injury may be only minimal, or not at all.

A brain injury can result in a permanent disability. A lifelong impairment often means you require support from others over the longer term. If this is the case, you may consider applying to the NDIS to receive funding for support services.


Are people with an Acquired Brain Injury eligible for NDIS funding?

If you have been diagnosed with an acquired brain injury, you may be eligible for NDIS funding. Learn the steps involved in Applying to the NDIS.


Need help finding NDIS supports for someone with an Acquired Brain Injury?

The MyCareSpace Connections Team can help you navigate the NDIS and access the supports you need.

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Our Connections Team at MyCareSpace are linked in with a range of providers offering telehealth services with availability. Let our team help you navigate the NDIS and find the right service for you.
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