This week is Brain Injury Awareness Week and heralds an opportunity to raise awareness for the 700,000 Australians who live with a brain injury which can cause daily living and participation challenges.
Running from 19-25 August, the theme of this year’s Brain Injury Awareness Week is ‘brain tumour’, which contributes to the deaths of around 300 Australians each year.
National Director, Strategy and Engagement at Synapse - Australian Brain Injury Organisation, Adam Schickerling says this week is important to people with a brain injury as it acknowledges they have a recognised injury and brings them together with other peers who have similar experiences.
“Brain injury has a significant impact on families, so Brain Injury Awareness Week is also important to carers of people with a brain injury," he says.
“For example, a brain injury can impact on self-awareness and insight, motivation and initiation, attention and concentration and so many other areas that affect behaviour.”
He says he believes the estimated figure of 700,000 Australians living with brain injury, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is underestimated.
“Some people who have a brain injury don’t realise that they have a brain injury or disability,” Mr Schickerling says
“For example, we’ve spoken to people who have been sent home from hospital after a major incident, such as an aneurysm, without understanding that they have a brain injury.
“They can live their whole lives without understanding why their memory may be poor or why they have difficulties communicating.
“When they contact Synapse and understand that they have a brain injury, they are relieved to finally understand why they are experiencing symptoms.”
Mr Schickerling hopes Synapse can raise awareness for brain injuries by highlighting common misconceptions.
“Brain injury is called an invisible disability because there are often no visible physical signs of injury,” he says.
“Because the injury can’t be seen, this means that people who have a brain injury can be misunderstood and treated differently.
"People can assume that the person has an intellectual disability when they don’t.
“Brain injury isn’t a mental health disorder either, all though mental health effects can be present after a brain injury.”
He says brain injury is caused by many things, including stroke and aneurysms, degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, traumatic injury, hypoxic/anoxic injuries (lack of oxygen to the brain), infections and diseases such as meningitis, cancer and Encephalitis, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and alcohol and/or drug misuse.
Mr Schickerling explains, “Brain injury can happen suddenly and is a life-changing event. Many people who have a brain injury talk about the person they were before the brain injury and the person they are now.”
He also says brain injury has a profound effect on homelessness and on the prison population.
“A study by Victoria Corrections found that 42 percent of male prisoners and 33 percent of female prisoners have a brain injury.
“If a brain injury occurs in the parietal lobe, the person may have no impulse control and this can increase their likelihood of ending up in jail.
“They might also regularly fail to meet parole conditions because they can’t remember appointments or parole requirements [and] they can also forget to pay their rent or other housing requirements which leads to homelessness.”
The prevalence of brain injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is particularly high, with the community three times more likely to experience brain injury.
Domestic violence is also a major cause of brain injury. In 2018, the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency found that 40 percent of domestic violence victims sustained a brain injury.
Brain injury can also cause family separations and relationship breakdowns.
“When they don't get the right support, parents with a brain injury might also find it more difficult to manage caring for children because of poor memory and other effects. Sometimes this can lead to children being removed which can be incredibly distressing for the family.”
During Brain Injury Awareness Week, Synapse is holding events for people who are involved in both their peer support and peer mentoring programs, including a barefoot bowling event in regional New South Wales.
The organisation is also holding a morning tea event at its Parramatta office.
Mr Schickerling is encouraging the Australian community to get involved throughout the week.
“During Brain Injury Awareness Week people can help raise awareness, whether it's by sharing information online, talking to friends about brain injury, donating to Synapse or holding a fundraising event,” he says.
For more information on Synapse and its range of support programs for people living with brain injury, their families and carers, visit synapse.org.au.