What is an Acquired Brain Injury?

It is the impairment of normal brain function due to a neurological insult, such as: open or closed head injury (traumatic brain injury or TBI), select cerebral vascular lesions (i.e., aneurysm, hemorrhage, brain stem stroke), hypoxic event (loss of oxygen .. i.e., near drowning), intracranial tumor, and select neurological diseases (i.e., encephalopathy). Well, that is a technical definition. Not very satisfying, is it? It’s very impersonal and doesn’t really even begin to answer the question. For something as complex as brain injury, there are no easy definitions or answers.**

**Most often, brain damage from congenital or genetic origins or birth trauma is not included within the standard definition of TBI. Neither are degenerative neurological diseases or disabilities stemming from mental illness. However, the definition of ABI and TBI will vary from organization to organization.

Is it only an ABI if there has been coma?

NO! ABI has many levels of intensity. It is possible that someone can acquire a brain injury without loss of consciousness or external bruising or tangible confirmation (i.e., CAT Scans, Skull X-rays, EEGs, etc.)

Individuals who have even a mild brain injury may continue to experience a wide variety of symptoms that can have life-changing implications. However, each injury is different and unique for each person.

What are the symptoms of an ABI?

Symptoms and related deficits fall into four major groups: Cognitive, Perceptual, Physical and Behavioral/Emotional. Keep in mind that because of the uniqueness of each injury, some survivors may or may not face or exhibit some or all of the symptoms. The number of symptoms doesn’t reflect on the impact that the injury will have on the survivors. Much of that depends on where the injury is located. The following is, by no means, a complete or comprehensive listing.

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Difficulty in processing information (decreased speed, accuracy and consistency)
  • Shortened attention span
  • Inability to understand abstract concepts
  • Impaired decision-making ability
  • Inability to shift mental tasks or to follow multi-step directions
  • Memory loss or impairment
  • Language deficits (difficulty expressing thoughts and understanding others, inappropriate word selection)

Perceptual Symptoms

  • Change in vision, hearing or sense of touch
  • Loss of sense of time and space and spatial disorientation
  • Disorders of smell and taste
  • Altered sense of balance
  • Increased pain sensitivity

Physical Symptoms

  • Persistent headache
  • Extreme mental and/or physical fatigue
  • Disorders of movement – gaiting, ataxia, spasticity and tremors
  • Seizure activity (traumatic epilepsy)Impaired small motor control
  • Photosensitivity (sensitivity to light)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Paralysis
  • Speech that is not clear due to poor control of the muscles in the lips, tongue and jaw and/or poor breathing patterns

Behavioral/Emotional Symptoms

  • Irritability and impatience
  • Reduced tolerance for stress
  • Lack of initiative, apathy
  • Dependence (failure to assume responsibility for one’s actions
  • Denial of disability
  • Lack of inhibition (may result in aggression, cursing and inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Inflexibility
  • Flattened or heightened emotional responses/reactions

How long does a brain injury last?

Each injury is different and unique to the survivor just as all survivors have different capacities for recognizing and compensating for the symptoms they exhibit. Much depends on getting the correct diagnosis and treatment and ensuring that good support systems are in place for the ENTIRE family. Changes and improvement continue although sometimes they are so slight they are hard to notice. It doesn’t happen overnight. Some of the deficits may remain for a lifetime while others may improve to the point that they are not a major factor in day-to-day living.

Is a Mild Brain Injury unimportant?

NO! A mild brain injury can have the same devastating effects that a moderate or severe injury can have. The key point is location. Most survivors of mild brain injury don’t lose consciousness and may only be in the emergency room for a short time before being sent home without ever knowing that they’ve been injured. For many of them, the survivor and their family/friends will begin noticing changes in them .. sometimes very subtle, sometimes very obvious. Since they weren’t diagnosed with a brain injury in the emergency room and since they didn’t ever lose consciousness, far too many of them will never receive the help that they need. Only now are the impacts of mild brain injury being understood, identified and treated. Most typically, mild brain injuries are received in car accidents where the brain is ‘sloshed’ around in the skull by the collision.

Does everyone who hits their head get a brain injury?

In the most mild of cases, the brain still gets bruised in much the same way your leg might get bruised if you bump into a coffee table. However, the head and the brain is pretty resilient and it can usually handle that injury without much effort. Some times people can get a really tremendous blow on the head and it not have any external effect. Again, much depends of the location of the injury and the brain’s ability to compensate.

Am I alone with this injury?

NO! Estimates place the annual occurrence of Acquired Brain Injury at 2 million. Tasks shared are tasks light. PLEASE take advantage of the people and organizations waiting to help you. You will find resource listing in this site.

Brain injury is traumatic .. physically, mentally and emotionally. It is hard on the person who has sustained the injury and it is hard on the family and friends of that person. It usually occurs quickly and without warning and finds everyone scared, confused, overwhelmed and in a state of shock.

Just as the definition of ABI varies so does the information that is passed onto the survivor and their family. I can either be too much or too little. It can be only the good or only the bad. There might be times when you’re so tired you don’t think you can go another step. You’ll find yourself caught up in many different emotions. You might feel that all hope is gone .. but never give up!

Brain injury requires that someone without prior knowledge quickly become informed and aware of what is happening now and what might happen in the future. It requires that lines of communication be put into place and then used to their maximum, advocating for the survivor until he/she is able to assist with that responsibility or take it over completely.

If you are the survivor, there will be times when you are so frustrated, so angry, so depressed, so confused that you will want to give up .. don’t! Reach out and find a peer groups of survivors and let them help you. You will find out that you ”are not going crazy’ inspite of what it sometimes seems like.

Recovery will vary and changes will occur long after you were told they would stop. A great deal will depend on the desire of the survivor to improve but ‘desire’ alone won’t do it. Never feel that this injury will go away if the survivor really wanted it to. It will take work and lot’s of it on everyone’s part.

Copyright held since 1991 by The Perspectives Network, Inc.



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