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.
Causes of acquired brain injury
The term 'acquired brain injury' 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 Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease or some other form of dementia
Symptoms of acquired brain injury
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 or 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 or 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).
Tests for acquired brain injury
People with an ABI will often have a brain scan of some kind. But depending on the cause of the ABI, there might be other tests that can 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 kinds of problems they are having, and what kind of support they will need if they are to improve.
Treatment for acquired brain injury
To some extent, the treatment will depend on what has caused the ABI. So, for example, someone with a stroke needs treatment specifically designed for their stroke.
But people with an ABI will also need treatment depending on what kinds of problems their condition is causing them. It is likely to involve rehabilitation that will focus on the areas the person affected is having 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, there are organisations that can offer support and information, including the Brain Foundation, Brain Injury Australia and Synapse. Your doctor may also be able to help you get more support.
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Last reviewed: July 2019