Brain Injury 101: What is an Acquired Brain Injury and Why Should I Care?

In Canada, approximately 1.5 million people are living with an acquired brain injury. However, that number is realistically much larger due to the fact that many brain injuries go undiagnosed and unreported.

Brain injury can be complicated to understand and diagnose, especially because no two brains are the same. Often, individuals live with the effects of a brain injury for their whole lives without knowing it. In order to prevent future brain injuries from happening, and to prevent them from being left unreported or undiagnosed, it is important to become educated about the subject.

This post will introduce you to the world of brain injury by explaining what an acquired brain injury is, how to classify an acquired brain injury, and the common symptoms that can occur in people with acquired brain injuries. This post will also touch on the impact that brain injury can have on you and the world around you.

What is an acquired brain injury?

Acquired brain injury, also known as ABI, is defined by the World Health Organization as “damage to the brain, which occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease”. Acquired brain injuries can either be traumatic or non-traumatic.

Traumatic vs. Non-Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI for short, is defined as “an alteration in brain function or other evidence of brain pathology caused by an external force”. Some causes of traumatic brain injury are:

  • Sports injuries (ex: concussion)
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Falls
  • Assaults
  • Gunshot wounds

A non-traumatic brain injury (NTBI) is an internal injury to the brain itself. Some causes of non-traumatic brain injuries are:

  • Stroke (from either a blocked or bleeding artery)
  • Anoxia (otherwise known as a lack of oxygen in the brain)
  • Infections in the brain (an example of this would be meningitis)
  • Brain tumours
  • Brain surgery (some damage may be caused by removing pieces of brain tissue)

Common symptoms of brain injury

Because no two brains are the same, those who have suffered an acquired brain injury can experience an array of unique symptoms. Some symptoms of acquired brain injuries can include:

  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Nausea
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Changes in emotional wellbeing
  • Difficulty with communication or expression

Why should you care about brain injury?

Every three minutes, someone in Canada suffers a serious acquired brain injury. However, the effects of brain injury spread farther than the individuals directly affected. The impact of brain injury extends to families, communities, and even countries. This, in turn, impacts you.

Regarding the effects that brain injury has on families, we can look at the mental and physical toll that looking after an individual who has suffered an acquired brain injury can have on a caregiver. Studies have shown that caregivers of those with acquired brain injuries experience increased rates of depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Because of this, Brain Care Centre provides a bi-weekly Care Givers Support Group that is designed for familial caregivers who are providing support to someone who has sustained a brain injury. Peer support is encouraged to assist caregivers in developing a stronger sense of their ability to cope and feel connected with others experiencing similar challenges.

The impact that acquired brain injury has on our communities, and our country as a whole, relates to homelessness and crime. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that more than half of the homeless population in Toronto have experienced a severe brain injury, and 70% of them experienced a severe brain injury prior to them ending up on the streets. Another study published by the Canadian Medical Association found that individuals who suffered from a brain injury had more than twice the risk of winding up in a federal prison in Canada.

It is important to educate yourself about acquired brain injury, as well as understand how it affects you, your community, and your country. We hope that the information above gave you a clearer picture of what an acquired brain injury is, how to classify an acquired brain injury, and the common symptoms associated with acquired brain injuries.

If you would like to learn more about brain injury and the resources available for you, Brain Care Centre operates a brain injury information line that is free for anyone to call. Brain injury is a very complex field that involves the coordination of many professionals and support organizations. Brain Care Centre is here to help guide you along the way.

(780) 477-7575 or toll-free 1-800-425-5552. Please ask to speak to the Information Coordinator.


Written By: Paige Simpson

Paige Simpson is a Canadian born writer and student living in Edmonton, Alberta. She is currently in her third year of the Bachelor of Communication Studies program at MacEwan University.