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Living With an Disability: The Reality of Acquired Brain Injury

The disability called brain injury – sometimes called acquired brain injury, or “ABI” – refers to any damage to the brain that occurs after birth. That damage can be caused by an accident or trauma, by a stroke, by a brain infection, by alcohol or other drug abuse or by diseases of the brain like Parkinson’s disease.

Brain injury is common. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 700,000 Australians have a brain injury, with daily “activity limitations” and “participation restrictions”. Three in every four of these people are aged 65 or under. As many as two out of every three acquired their brain injury before the age of 25. Three-quarters of people with a brain injury are men.

The Prevalence of Acquired Brain Injury

The impacts of ABI are wide-ranging and are sometimes invisible to others. Problems with memory, concentration, planning, reasoning, and coordination are common. Mood changes like depression, anxiety, and irritability frequently occur. The effects of ABI can disrupt relationships, independence, and the ability to work or participate in community activities.

If you or someone you know is living with the aftermath of a brain injury, know that there are resources and support available. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide coping strategies.

Speaking to a doctor about possible treatment options, or joining a local support group are good first steps.

While the prevalence and impacts of ABI are sobering, the human capacity for resilience, recovery and support gives hope. With time and effort, people living with ABI can thrive and rebuild their lives.

An ABI occurs when an external force injures the brain. The most common causes are falls, vehicle accidents and strokes. After a ABI, the brain has trouble communicating with the rest of the body. This can lead to cognitive, physical, emotional, and behavioral problems.

Cognitive difficulties may include:

  • Impaired memory, concentration, or decision making

  • Slowed thinking, learning, or speaking

  • Trouble planning or problem solving

Physical problems could be:

  • Headaches, dizziness or fatigue

  • Seizures or weakness in arms/legs

  • Balance, vision, or hearing issues

Emotionally and behaviorally, you may experience:

  • Depression, anxiety, or mood swings

  • Irritability, aggression, or impulsivity

  • Difficulty empathising or controlling emotions

The effects of a ABI depend on which parts of the brain were damaged and the severity of injury. Recovery can take weeks, months or years of rehabilitation. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and learning strategies to cope with deficits.

The Effects: How Brain Injury Impacts Thinking, Memory, Emotions and Behaviour

Memory Problems

Your memory is one of the cognitive functions most vulnerable to brain injury. You may struggle with short-term memory loss, forgetting things that just happened or that you were just told. Long-term memory can also be affected, limiting your ability to recall events from the past or remember details of your own life experiences. Some strategies to help with memory issues include:

  • Repeat information aloud or teach it to another person. Saying or teaching something activates another part of your memory.

  • Use memory aids like schedules, calendars, alarms and checklists. Set reminders for important tasks and events.

  • Get plenty of rest and exercise. Both sleep and physical activity promote memory consolidation and brain plasticity.

  • Try memory exercises like word games, puzzles and mnemonics (memory tricks). Challenge and exercise your memory regularly.

Emotional Changes

Brain injury often impacts emotional control and regulation. You may experience mood swings, irritability, depression or anxiety. Emotional outbursts and uncontrolled laughing or crying can also occur. Some tips to help manage emotions:

  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques like yoga or deep breathing. Reducing stress and staying calm will help stabilise your mood.

  • Have a good Doctor and OT who can guide you through everything

  • Maintain a routine and schedule as much as possible. Having structure and predictable activities can help you feel more in control of your emotions.

  • Talk to others about how you're feeling instead of bottling it up. Speaking with a therapist or support group can help provide perspective and coping strategies.

Behavioural Impacts

In addition to thinking and emotional effects, brain injury can also lead to behavioral changes like impulsiveness, difficulty adapting to change, repetitive behaviors and problems with social skills or self-monitoring. Behavioral therapies and making lifestyle adjustments may help address these challenges. The key is patience, practice and not being too hard on yourself.

Navigating Relationships and Daily Life

Living with an acquired brain injury often means navigating relationships and daily tasks that most people take for granted. A disability like ABI can make normal life feel anything but. However, with patience, education, and the support of loved ones, you can find ways to thrive.

Educating Others

Many people do not understand brain injuries or their impact. You may need to explain your condition, limitations, and needs to family, friends, coworkers, and employers. Be open and honest about how your ABI affects you, while also focusing on your abilities. Provide resources to help others comprehend what you experience daily. With understanding comes compassion.

Setting Boundaries

Don't feel pressured into commitments you cannot handle. Learn to say no, and don't feel guilty about it. Pace yourself and avoid overstimulation when possible. Make self-care a priority, and ask others for help when you need it. Setting healthy boundaries will reduce stress and prevent burnout.

Finding Community Support

Connect with others living with ABI. Local support groups provide empathy and advice for navigating life's challenges. Look for online communities as well to find solidarity and tips for coping strategies. Speaking with people who truly understand what you're going through can help combat feelings of isolation.

Maintaining Independence

While accepting help when needed, value your independence. Focus on the activities you can still do, and use tools that enable more self-sufficiency. Meal delivery, transportation services, smart home devices are options if daily tasks have become difficult. Occupational therapy also provides strategies for maintaining independence.

Living with an invisible disability is an ongoing journey of learning and adaptation. But by educating others, setting boundaries, finding community support, and valuing your independence, you gain confidence in managing relationships and daily life on your own terms. Over time, the path forward becomes clearer.

How You Can Raise Awareness and Support for People Living With ABI

Spread Awareness

The first step to supporting those with ABI is to help raise awareness about this disability. Educate friends and family about what ABI is and how it can impact someone’s life in so many ways. Share stories of others living with ABI to help build understanding.

Offer Your Time

Offer to help out with daily tasks like cleaning, cooking meals, running errands or providing transportation. Simple things like these can make a big difference in relieving stress and fatigue. Your time is one of the most valuable gifts you can give. Ask how you can lend an extra set of hands.

Educate Yourself on Resources

Do some research on resources, programs, and organisations in your area that provide support for individuals with ABI and their caregivers. Some options may include:

  • NDIS

  • Adult day programs

  • Respite care

  • Occupational, speech and physical therapy

  • Job retraining programs

  • Accessible recreational activities

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subject. The words and other content provided in this blog are not intended and should not be constructed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed medical worker. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read in this blog. If you think you have a medical emergency, please call your doctor or 000 Immediately


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