Acquired brain injury: What are the different types and how are they caused?

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An acquired brain injury can be caused in a number of ways and can lead to long term after effects.

Key Points

  • More than 700,000 people in Australia live with an acquired brain injury

  • Acquired brain injuries can be classified as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or a non-traumatic brain injury

  • Any type of brain injury can be serious and the severity of the damage can range from mild to extreme

What is an Acquired brain injury?

A brain injury that has happened after birth and causes a disability is called an acquired brain injury (ABI). An ABI is an injury to the brain which is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma.

More than 700,000 people in Australia live with an ABI.

Brain injuries can be sudden onset, which is caused by trauma, infection, lack of oxygen, strokes or drug use episodes.

They can also develop over time, known as insidious onset, which is caused by things such as prolonged alcohol or substance abuse, tumours or degenerative neurological diseases.

ABI injuries are usually classified as either a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or a non-traumatic brain injury.

​Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

A TBI is an alteration in brain function or other brain pathology caused by an external force. Some examples of how a TBI injury is caused are:

  • Car or motorcycle accidents

  • Assault

  • Falls

  • Sport

  • Blows to the head

  • Explosive blasts and other combat injuries.

In a lot of cases, TBI’s can be prevented. There are a number of ways to minimise the likelihood of a traumatic brain injury. Some of those ways include:

  • Wearing helmets on bikes, scooters, motorbikes, and when playing contact sports

  • Wearing a seatbelt in a motor vehicle

  • Fall prevention methods for children and older adults

​Non-traumatic brain injury

Non-traumatic brain injury is an injury that is caused by an internal force. Examples of how a non-TBI injury is caused include:

  • Tumour

  • Stroke

  • Poison

  • Lack of, or not enough, oxygen to the brain

  • Virus/infection

  • Bleeding on the brain

Any type of brain injury can be serious and the severity of the damage can range from mild to extreme. This can include coma and even death.

​The impact of brain injury

A brain injury can cause a number of short or long term issues or disabilities. These will depend on the type of injury as well as the severity.

An injury to the brain can cause:

  • Sensory problems: Vision problems are the most common sensory impairments caused by TBI. However, in some patients their taste and smell may also be impacted.

  • Cognitive disabilities: Cognitive disabilities caused by a brain injury can lead to trouble thinking clearly, remembering events and facts, or reasoning logically.

  • Communication issues: Someone with communication issues caused by a brain injury may have trouble understanding or producing spoken or written words. They may also experience trouble understanding body language and non-verbal cues.

  • Post-concussion syndrome: This condition is usually experienced after a traumatic brain injury. It can cause symptoms like headache, dizziness, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance, agitation and other emotional issues.

​ Treatment

Depending on the type of ABI received, the treatment options may differ. Some of the treatment options for an acquired brain injury are:

  • Occupational and physical therapy: Occupational therapy can help you to regain movement and the independence to do daily tasks.

  • Medications: Medicines can help relieve symptoms like headaches, anxiety, depression or memory problems.

  • Speech Therapy: Speech therapy can help to improve cognition, speech, memory and facial movement.

  • Surgery: Surgery may be required to help control bleeding on or around the brain.

  • Counselling: Counselling can help with mood changes, dealing with any trauma, acceptance of the injury and other emotional issues.

The outcomes of treatment and the after-effects experienced for those with an acquired brain injury will depend on the injury sustained and can be different for each person.

If you need to obtain help for an ABI you can do so from your GP, a neurologist, or local support organisations.

How do you think we can help prevent traumatic brain injury? Leave a comment below.

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