What is a brain injury?
A brain injury, sometimes called an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), is a term we use when talking about damage to the brain that’s happened after birth, and causes disability.
In this article we’ll call it ABI.
ABI can happen to people of all ages, but it’s more common in people under the age of 25. It can also happen to males and females, but is more common in males – 75 per cent of people living with an ABI are male.
More than 700,000 people in Australia live with an ABI.
How does it happen?
There are different ways someone can acquire, or “get”, a brain injury, including:
- an accident or physical trauma to the head
- brain infection
The leading cause of ABI in kids, teens and young adults is an accident or physical trauma. Things like falling over and hitting your head, being hit on the head with an object either by accident or during a physical altercation, or being involved in a car accident. This type of injury is usually called a Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, because the damage to the brain is caused by an external force.
You can also injure your brain in a sporting accident, like during a high tackle in rugby or footy, by running into something, or running into someone.
Most sporting codes now have strict guidelines about how to manage a concussion or head injury. A good example is the AFL’s guidelines for how to manage a child who has a concussion.
The other, less common, causes of ABI include brain infections like meningitis or encephalitis, a stroke, drowning or any other situation where the brain goes without oxygen for a period of time.
Playing it safe
It’s pretty common for kids to hit their head. We’ve all been there. Your kids are playing in the backyard or mucking about with their friends, and before you know it, someone’s in tears because they’ve bumped their head.
Usually, when it’s serious, there are signs that prompt us to take urgent action and call an ambulance – things like bleeding, loss of consciousness, or they can’t see properly.
Other times it’s hard to know how serious it is and it’s easy to second guess yourself – was it just a bump? Should I take them to the doctor? How do I know if it’s caused any damage to their brain?
It is recommended that you always seek medical advice when someone has injured their head.
What to expect after a brain injury
Once someone has been treated for their acute injury and is stable, they’ll move to a hospital ward to start rehabilitation. This is part of the recovery process, which is usually significant in the first few weeks. Rehabilitation may go on for many years after an injury – this is normal – and it’s always a positive move in the right direction.
We’re all unique
It’s important to remember that recovery and rehabilitation from ABI looks different for everyone.
Each person’s brain is unique – like fingerprints – so your child’s journey might be very different from someone else’s, even if they were injured in a similar way or at a similar age.
Kids and young people are incredibly resilient. This, along with support from their family during rehabilitation, is key to getting the best possible outcomes.
Living with an ABI
Our brains are vital to everything we do – how we move, how we think, how we speak, how we behave and our emotions. When your brain is injured, all these things can be affected which is why even a mild ABI can lead to disability. It’s sometimes called a “hidden disability” because some effects of the brain injury can go unrecognised.
It can also take a while after an injury has happened to know how it’s going to impact the person, and what the short and long terms effects might be.
In children, one indicator of how severe the brain injury, is how long they have amnesia, confusion or memory loss for after their accident. This is called post-traumatic amnesia. Another indicator is how long, if at all, a child is in a coma for following their injury.
These are some of the common changes people living with ABI may experience:
- Mobility – things like poor balance, fatigue, difficulty walking, holding onto things or trouble with everyday tasks like eating and brushing their teeth.
- Communication – this could include trouble understanding what someone is saying, difficulty talking, or difficulty expressing themselves.
- Cognition – such as trouble with concentration, paying attention, or remembering things.
- Personality and behaviour – the person with the ABI may act or behave in ways that are different to before their injury.
How Novita can help
Early intervention, rehabilitation and the right support can make all the difference in helping someone living with ABI regain function and learn new ways of doing things.
Novita has an Acquired Brain Injury Multidisciplinary Team who specialise in working with young people living with an ABI. They work closely with hospitals to make sure the transition from hospital to home is as smooth as possible, and you have everything you need.
Families are very important to rehabilitation and we will work together as a team to get the best possible outcomes for your child. We will coach you how to support your child alongside the activities and therapy they are receiving to help them reach their goals.
We’ll also work with all the other important people in your child’s life, like teachers or sport coaches, to help them get back to school and back into the activities they enjoy.
Who will be in my kid’s team?
Your child is our number one priority, and we’ll work alongside you every step of the way during their recovery. This team might look big, but don’t be overwhelmed. We’ll be a tight-knit community of support for you and your child to help them be their best.
- A Social Worker will play a significant role in supporting you and your child through the ABI journey. They can coordinate the many services your child needs to access after they leave hospital.
- Physiotherapists will do physical therapy with your child, maybe even aquatic therapy in a pool, to help them with their balance, motor skills, fatigue and fitness. We can also help them with their posture and provide mobility equipment if needed to help them get around.
- Occupational Therapists will help your child regain or re-learn everyday skills like dressing and handwriting. We can also prescribe splints, equipment or assistive technology to help them at home, kindy or school.
- A Neuro Psychologist can assess your child to help understand how the ABI might have affected their thinking, cognitive and learning skills. They can also help your child return to school and identify what support they may need to follow the school curriculum.
- A Clinical Psychologist can support both your child and your family. They can help with grief, self-esteem, social skills and getting back to everyday life.
- Speech Pathologists will work with your child to help them with language, speaking, how they express themselves, literacy, and making the most of mealtimes.
Novita also has something called Multidisciplinary Physical Management Clinics. These are used to coordinate your child’s support and services between your family, therapists and Rehabilitation Paediatricians, to help manage any physical issues your child might have.
There’s always support
A brain injury can have a big impact on the person it’s happened to, and the people who love and support them.
If you’re struggling with the process, need advice, support, or just someone to talk to, it can help to reach out to a Novita social worker.
Knowledge is power
Here are some great resources to check out if you want to learn more about ABI.
- Lifetime care NSW has a video for kids, that tells the story of a young boy who hit his head in a bike accident.
- The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne has developed fact sheets on head injuries and brain injuries.
- Brain Injury SA is the peak body in South Australia for people living with ABI and carers. They work with families, service providers, ABI specialists and agencies. Brain Injury Australia is the national peak body for ABI.
- You can also reach out to an ABI advocacy group, like Brain Injury Network of South Australia (BINSA) or Families 4 Families.
If you would like information or free advice, speak to someone in our friendly team on 1300 668 482 or request a callback. You might also like to read about our 6 steps to get started, why you should choose Novita, and how we can support you with the NDIS.