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Acquired brain injury

According to the World Health Organization, over 1.6 million Australians are affected by acquired brain injury, or ABI—a complex spectrum disorder that can lead to changes in communication, physical and sensory abilities, thinking and learning processes, behaviour and personality, and medical needs. ABI is often called the ‘silent epidemic’, as many of the changes experienced are unseen to the eye.

People with ABI have lower employment outcomes that people with a disability and the population in general. They are also overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Brain Injury Australia estimates that as many as 80% of offenders may have ABI. Disability Online has information about:

Brain injury survivors and their carers also share their personal stories on the Brain Injury Australia website.

What is acquired brain injury?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, over 1 in 12 Queenslanders are affected by an acquired brain injury, or ABI. The disability involves an observable difference in a person’s brain structure and functioning. It can lead to changes in:

  • physical and sensory abilities
  • ability to think and learn
  • behaviour and personality
  • communication
  • medical needs.

The area or areas of the brain affected, how the brain is injured and the severity of the injury largely determine the changes that occur with ABI. Brain Injury Australia estimates that 3 out of every 4 people with ABI are men, and as many as 2 out of every 3 people are likely to have acquired their brain injury before reaching 25 years of age.

How does acquired brain injury differ from intellectual disability and mental illness?

ABI is different from intellectual disability and mental illness. ABI is a spectrum disorder, meaning that people may be affected by several different conditions at the same time. Unlike with intellectual disability, ABI is not dependent on intellectual ability, and intellectual abilities are often not affected at all. A person with ABI may still find it hard to communicate, control or coordinate their thoughts and actions.
The symptoms of ABI and mental illness can be similar. A person with a mental illness is twice as likely to sustain an ABI, and a person with ABI is twice as likely to develop a mental health issue. Synapse, the peak body for Queenslanders with ABI, has a fact sheet about mental illness and ABI.

What support is available?

ABI can be difficult to cope with, and it can take some time for families, friends and carers to adjust to what the person is going through. Support is available for people with ABI and their families, friends and carers, as well as for service providers and employers.

Government support

Queensland Health provides an Acquired Brain Injury Outreach Service (ABIOS). ABIOS offers direct client services and training programs, and runs research projects. ABIOS also offers assistance with behaviour management for people with ABI, their families and carers, and employees in the disability sector, including:

  • professional consultations and advice
  • ndash; practical resources
  • intervention and support services, including counselling, education and anger management training
  • skill development and education.

Community support

Synapse offers training for health professionals, staff and carers, as well as accommodation assistance, assessment and options planning, a Community Response Service with state-wide information and referrals, and a range of publications. You can call Synapse on (07) 3137 7400 or email Brain Injury Australia offers support to all Australians with ABI and their families. Organisations including Open Minds, the Developing Foundation and Headway Gold Coast also provide assistance to Queenslanders with ABI.

Advocacy and legal support

The Adult Guardian protects the rights of Queenslanders who are unable to make a decision for themselves, and Legal Aid Queensland provides legal information, advice and representation for disadvantaged Queenslanders. You can find out about services that are offered and get in contact with Legal Aid Queensland. Queensland Advocacy Incorporated, or QAI, provides individual legal advocacy for people with a disability, in instances in which the person’s disability is at the centre of their legal issue. QAI offers a Justice Support Program, as well as a Human Rights Legal Service and a Mental Health Legal Service. You can call QAI on (07) 3844 4200 or email to find out more. TASC—formerly the Toowoomba Community Legal Service—is Queensland’s largest community legal service. It offers legal representation, advice and support for adults and children with ABI, as well as an advocacy service for people with a disability in Toowoomba and South West Queensland.

Mental health support

Disability Online has information to help adults and children and young people with their mental health and wellbeing. You can also read our section about support for families, carers and friends. The Mental Illness Fellowship of Queensland and the Mental Illness Fellowship of North Queensland support people with a mental illness, their families and carers in Queensland.

Employment support

Disability Online has information on education, training and employment; as well as support for employers and colleagues. The Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs has a manual for employers, Work Talk, that includes tips for communicating effectively with employees with ABI.

Substance use support

Drug Arm is a not-for-profit organisation that offers support to people and families experiencing difficulties with alcohol, tobacco or other drugs in Queensland. Anger management information and support is provided as part of an Alcohol and Other Drug Program. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation Queensland also offers services to support Queenslanders affected by alcohol and drug use and their families.

Did you know?

Stroke is the leading cause of ABI. Around 60,000 new and recurrent strokes occur in Australia each year—or 1 stroke every 10 minutes. ABI can also be caused by a brain infection; alcohol or drug use; or a chronic disease such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or Alzheimer’s disease. Injury that occurs when force is applied to the head, known as traumatic brain injury (TBI), is another type of ABI. This can happen, for example, after a fall, a car or motorbike accident, an assault, or a near-drowning experience.

Motor vehicle accidents

Motor vehicle accidents can lead to traumatic brain injuries that can affect how a person thinks, feels and acts for the rest of their life. Two research centres—the Centre of National Research on Disability and Rehabilitation Medicine, or CONROD, and the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety, or CARRS-Q—work in partnership with the Motor Accident Insurance Commission to improve accident prevention and road safety on Queensland roads.

Getting smart with technology

An Australian study shows that tablet computers, smartphones and other handheld digital devices can help brain injury patients improve their memories. The research relied on brain injury patients prompting their memories by storing information such as times for medications and appointments in personal digital assistants, or PDAs. More information about the research is available on the Royal Rehabilitation Centre Sydney website.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated:
22 May 2014

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