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What is an acquired brain injury?

"Damage to the brain which occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or degenerative disease.  These impairments may be temporary or permanent and cause partial or functional disability or psychosocial maladjustment"
World Health Organization, Geneva, 1996

What's the difference between acquired brain injury and traumatic brain injury?

head injury: injury to the skull, scalp, face, etc

brain injury: injury to the brain

traumatic brain injury: insult to the brain by an external force ie: assault, fall, blunt object

acquired brain injury: injury to the brain that has occurred after birth ie: stroke, tumour, infection, traumatic brain injury

How many people have an acquired brain injury?

Neurologists are calling acquired brain injury the 'silent epidemic,' and in British Columbia alone between 21 and 38 individuals sustain brain injury each day; additionally, for each person who is injured, there are a number of other people who are affected and involved: family, spouses, friends, employers, medical and other professionals, and direct service providers. Today, an estimated 10,000 persons are living with an acquired brain injury in B.C.

What changes might a person experience as a result of a brain injury?

The person may experience physical changes, cognitive changes, emotional changes and/or social changes.

What are some of the common physical changes people may experience?

 People may experience any of the following: problems with movement (weak muscles, poor balance, poor coordination) which may lead to difficulties with walking, sitting or transferring,challenges with bathing, toileting, dressing, grooming and household tasks and slurred speech.  They may also experience headaches, fatigue and problems with thier sleep.

What are some of the common cognitive changes people may experience?   

There are a number of cognitive, or thinking changes that may impact the person with the acquired brain injury.  These may include: 

  • Taking more time to make sense or process information,
  • difficulties with planning, organizing and starting tasks,
  • problems understanding conversations, coming up with the right word and talking in grammatically complete sentences. 

People may experience increased distractibility and have difficulty with multi-tasking or sequencing. Often memory may be impacted, especially short-term memory.  The person may have difficulty with judgment and decision making.  The person may perseverate or get "stuck" on a particular topic or activity. There might be some disorientation and confusion around date, time of day, location.  The person may also exhibit impulsivity - acting before they think things through.  Disinhibition is also common.  This is when the individual does not have the same "social filter" he/she would have had in the past.  This often results in the person doing or saying something that he/she shouldn't.

What are some of the emotional changes the person may experience?           

Emotional changes can also be common following an acquired brain injury.  The person may be more irritable, having a short fuse.  They may be more emotionally labile - meaning they may cry for no apparent reason.  They may have more emotional or behavioural outbursts. The person is also likely to experience the "normal" emotional responses one would have to the impact of the brain injury such as sadness, anger, frustration, loss of sense of self, and/or the anxiety around having another brain injury or stroke.

What are some of the social changes that may occur?                                      

There are many social changes the person may experience following their acquired brain injury.  These are often as a result of changes in the other areas of functioning including physical, cognitive and emotional.  The person may isolate themselves because they feel different or realize they are unable to particiapte in some of the same activities they did in the past.  There may be awkwardness or inappropriate behaviour because of difficulty reading social cues.  There may be a loss of privacy, independence, and/or an ability to earn an income.  This can directly impact the person's roles such as parent, employee, friend, etc.  The person may now be in a position of needing to receive assitance from others versus being the person to provide the assistance in the past.                                  

How can I find financial assistance?                                                             

There are many specialised rehab and support services in the community that are not paid for by the Government.  These are called "fee for service" which means they are not paid for by your regular medical plan. If you have an insurance plan some of these services may be paid for by your plan. Government funding is more limited.

For details, visit our funding page.

Where can I find more information about acquired brain injury?

Heart and Stroke Foundation provides detailed information about: Types of Stroke, Prevention of Risk Factors, Living with a Stroke, Warning Signs, Women & Stroke, Tests, Treatment, Other Resources

BC Cancer Agency links you to websites with information about brain tumors and cancers that affect the Central Nervous System 

Headlines Newsletters for people who have a brain tumour

Brainline a site from the United States that provides a full range of information about traumatic brain injury

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Rick Hansen Foundation, BC Neurotrauma Fund

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Brainstreams.ca is an online education and networking site for the Brain Injury Community in B.C. and beyond.

The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.