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What is a brain injury?

An acquired brain injury (ABI) is defined as damage to the brain, which occurs after birth.  There are two types of ABI:  Traumatic and Non-traumatic (or sometimes simply referred to as Acquired).  Traumatic injuries include injuries sustained in a car accident, fall, blow to the head, or injury where the brain is penetrated by a foreign body.  Non-traumatic brain injuries include aneurysms, strokes, brain tumors, infections such as meningitis, or lack of oxygen to the brain as might occur during drowning, cardiac issues, or drug overdose.  Acquired brain injuries do not include disabilities which occurred during or prior to birth, or are related to a progressive disease such as Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis.


Whether a brain injury is deemed to be “mild”, “moderate”, or “severe” is due to factors which occur at the time of the injury.  This is comprised of the length of time an individual experiences loss of consciousness or amnesia following an event, as well as their abilities to respond such as opening their eyes, the ability to answer questions, and make physical movements on command.   Many additional factors may influence recovery including the person’s age, health, early medical care, length of coma, pre-injury abilities and personality, location of the injury in the brain, duration of time, and quality of rehabilitation.


An acquired brain injury can have many effects, and they are different for each person.  These may include body movement and balance, communication, though processes like planning and memory, behaviour, and emotional difficulties.  The exact nature of the difficulties for each person is unique and will depend on how and where the brain was injured, as well as age and personal characteristics.


The brain begins the healing process within 24 hours.  Current research suggests that recovery continues throughout one’s lifetime.  When an injury occurs, the brain chemistry is disrupted and can be thrown off balance.  Various substances are released by the body in an attempt to promote healing.  This too can disrupt the brain’s functioning.  Generally, the neurochemicals return to normal over time.

It was once believed that the brain was unable to create new brain cells, however it is now known that this is false.  In a process known as “neuroplasticity”, injured neurons sprout and establish new connections to create new pathways within the brain for thoughts to be transmitted.  In addition, improvements may be seen over time as uninjured areas of the brain take over from injured areas.