An acquired brain injury (ABI) refers to any damage to the brain that occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease. This definition stems form the World Health Organization where a brain injury was defined as "Damage to the brain, which occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease. These impairments may be temporary or permanent and cause partial or functional disability or psychosocial maladjustment (Geneva 1996). There are two types of acquired brain injury: non-traumatic and traumatic.
Topics in this section include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Non-traumatic brain injury
- Challenge of prognosis
- How the brain works
Traumatic acquired brain injuries (TBIs) are caused by something that comes from outside the body. This includes blows, bumps, and jolts to the head. Traumatic brain injuries can result in temporary injury or more serious, long-term damage. See statistics on TBI. Causes of traumatic acquired brain injuries include:
- Explosive blasts, combat injuries
- Gunshot wounds
- Intimate partner violence (assault, strangulation, suffocation)
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Shaken baby syndrome
- Sports injuries
A video on acquired brain injury
Is a concussion a brain injury?
A concussion is an acquired brain injury. Anyone who sustains a concussion can experience many of the physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioural effects that accompany acquired brain injuries.
Concussion is also known as mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that has no neuroimaging findings. The term mild does not diminish the impacts that concussion can have on your health and activities of daily living (ADLs).
Non-traumatic acquired brain injuries are caused by something that happens inside the body, or a substance introduced into the body that damages brain tissues.
- Brain tumour
- Cerebral edema
- Opioid overdose
Acquired brain injury affects every part of a person’s life. This includes changes to your independence, abilities, work, and relationships with family, friends, and caregivers. Since a brain injury differs from person to person and recovery depends on several factors, in many cases it’s difficult to know what long-term behavioural, cognitive, physical or emotional effects there will be.
The effects of brain injury can be put in the following categories :
Behavioural changes: The way a person acts or makes decisions can change after a brain injury. Behavioural changes include engaging in risky or impulsive behaviour, having difficulty with social and work relationships and isolation. This can be stressful and depending on the behaviour can cause safety concerns. Rehabilitation and medical teams will be able to provide practical tips for behaviour after a brain injury.
Cognitive changes: This is how the brain learns, processes information, forms memories and makes decisions. Challenges include communication, concentration, reading/writing, making decisions, and remembering things.
Emotional changes: a brain injury, a person may experience new or different emotions, including depression, anxiety, and/or anger. Emotional changes are difficult to adjust to, and it’s important to have a support system of family, friends, and medical professionals.
Physical changes: In some cases, a brain injury will have physical effects. These effects include mobility challenges, headaches, fatigue, pain and sensory changes.
(Source: Ontario Brain Injury Association)
Prognosis means the likely path a disease or injury will take. In the case of acquired brain injury, prognosis is meant to give a best estimate of effects and recovery. Acquired brain injuries are all different, and there are a lot of factors that will impact a prognosis of recovery.
Factors that affect prognosis include:
- Severity of injury
- Previous injuries and existing conditions
- Access to treatment
- Location of injury
Research shows that there is no system or set of variables that can accurately predict outcome for a single patient . There is no definite timeline for recovery - it’s different for everyone. Doctors will update their prognosis as recovery progresses and provide next steps at the same time.
This section of our website covers the kinds of changes you may experience, management tips, and information on the kinds of tools and services that can help you and your family navigate living with brain injury.
- In hospital information
- Rehabilitation information
- Living with brain injury information
- Local brain injury associations
- The Hamilton Health Sciences About Brain Injury Guide