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Acquired Brain Injury

What is an Acquired Brain Injury?

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)
  • hypoxic event (lack of oxygen such as in a near drowning, e.g.)
  • select cerebral vascular lesions (i.e., aneurysm, hemorrhage, brain stem stroke)
  • intracranial tumor, and
  • select neurological diseases (i.e., encephalopathy).

Often, congenital or genetic brain damage or birth trauma is not part of the standard TBI  definition. Nor are disabilities or degenerative neurological diseases originating from mental illness. But ABI and TBI definitions will vary from group to group.

What are the symptoms of an ABI?

ABI symptoms and deficits include impairments in the following groups: Cognitive, Perceptual, Physical and Behavioral/Emotional. Each brain is unique, and each brain injury is unique.  Therefore, some survivors may not exhibit all of the symptoms—or even any of them. The number of symptoms does not indicate the severity of the injury or its impact on the survivors. That may depend on the location of the injury and the severity. The following is not intended to be a comprehensive list.

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

  • Reduced stress tolerance
  • Irritability / impatience
  • Denial of disability
  • Dependency
  • Lack of initiative, apathy
  • Lack of inhibition (possibly manifesting as aggression and inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Reduced or heightened emotional reactions
  • Inflexibility

Is it only an ABI if there has been a traumatic event or coma?

No.  People can acquire a brain injury without external bruising, loss of consciousness, or tangible confirmation (i.e., skull X-rays, EEGs, CAT scans, etc.) Individuals who have even a mild brain injury may continue to experience a wide variety of symptoms that can have life-changing implications. Remember, each injury is unique for each person, just as each person’s brain is unique.

Is a Mild Brain Injury unimportant?

Not at all.  Even a mild brain injury can have devastating effects similar to those of a moderate or severe brain injury. The key is the location of the injury. Most mild brain injury survivors do not lose consciousness and may never be diagnosed with the injury on their initial ER visit. For many mild brain injury survivors, the survivor’s family and friends notice changes (sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious changes).

Because they were not diagnosed with their brain injury in the ER, and did not lose consciousness, they may never receive the help they and their family needs. Often, mild brain injuries are received in car accidents where the brain is knocked about inside the skull during the collision.

How long does a brain injury last?

Every brain injury is unique to the brain injury survivor, and as all survivors possess different capacities to recognize and compensate for their symptoms. Getting a correct diagnosis, good treatment, and adequate support systems for the person and their family are critical. Some deficits may last a lifetime, while others improve to the point where active day-to-day living is possible.

Does everyone get a brain injury when they hit their head?

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. Sometimes 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.

Are we alone with this injury?

No, there are many people—millions each year—suffering from some form of acquired brain injury.  These injuries are hard on the victim, and is hard on their friends and family.  But there are resources available.  While the Spangenberg firm provides legal resources to help identify and hold accountable people who’s carelessness causes a traumatic or acquired brain injury, there are many social services and private support groups available, too.  



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