What is acquired brain injury (ABI)?
An acquired brain injury (ABI) is the result of damage to your brain that may occur at any time during your life. An ABI can cause many different problems for the person affected. It is different from an intellectual disability or a mental illness.
Acquired brain injury (ABI) is any type of brain injury that happens after birth. It covers many different situations rather than just one disease or condition, and it may occur in many different ways.
An ABI can be caused by:
- trauma or injury to the head (sometimes called a traumatic brain injury)
- drugs or alcohol
- not getting enough oxygen to the brain (for example, a near-drowning)
- degenerative brain conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia
What are the symptoms of ABI?
ABI can affect people in many different ways. Some people have physical effects, including:
- weakness, shaking, stiffness or poor balance
- changes in sleep patterns
- seizures or fits
- changes in vision, smell or touch
Some people experience changes in their thinking or learning abilities, including:
- problems with memory
- problems with concentration or attention
- difficulty with planning or organisation
- difficulty with communication, such as having a conversation
Some people have problems with managing their behaviour or emotions, including:
- mood swings
- being irritable or feeling on edge
- changes in personality
You can talk to your doctor if any of these problems affect you or someone you know. If there is an emergency, call triple zero (000).
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How is ABI diagnosed?
People with an ABI will often have a brain scan. Depending on the cause of the ABI, other tests might be done as well.
Testing of the person's memory, thinking and how well they manage everyday tasks will need to be done. These tests examine what kind of problems they are having, and what support they will need.
How is ABI treated?
To some extent, the treatment will depend on what has caused the ABI. For example, someone who has had a stroke needs treatment designed for their situation.
But people with an ABI will also need treatment depending on what kind of problems their condition is causing them. It is likely to involve rehabilitation that will focus on the areas they have difficulty with.
Rehabilitation takes time. Although the biggest improvements usually come in the first few months after an injury, recovery can continue for years afterwards. Some people have to learn to live with some of the effects of an ABI on a more permanent basis.
Caring for a person with an ABI, and living with an ABI
It can be frustrating and challenging to have an ABI. Caring for someone with an ABI may also be challenging. However, organisations can offer support and information, including the Brain Foundation and Brain Injury Australia. Synapse has a wide range of information for carers. Your doctor may also be able to help you get more support.
Resources and support
Synapse provides information and support for people affected by brain injury and disability, including a practical guide to understanding and responding to acquired brain injury, ABI: The Facts. Call 1800 673 074
Brain Injury Australia provides a range of factsheets about acquired brain injury.
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Last reviewed: May 2021