Acquired brain injury, simply stated, includes any brain injury that is acquired at or after birth. Cerebral palsy, for instance, can be acquired prior to birth, during the birthing process or shortly after birth. Since there is evidence that cerebral palsy can be linked to the mother or child’s medical history, it is not really considered to be what is commonly known as acquired brain injuries.
Multiple sclerosis certainly affects the brain but it is considered to be a nervous system disease caused in part by heredity but triggered by any of multiple viruses.
Common Causes of Acquired Brain Injury
Trauma to the head is the most common cause of brain injury and can result in mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries. Although rare, this trauma can occur in the birth canal during the birthing process. Head trauma, however, is most often caused by accidents, falls, and sports injuries.
Traumatic brain injuries, due to Improved Explosive Devices (IED) became the signature wound sustained by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brain tumors can also cause brain injury. The severity, of course, depends on the location and size of the tumor.
Strokes are another common cause. A stroke is caused by oxygenated blood not properly reaching brain cells, resulting in those cells die. The severity of brain injuries caused by strokes, then, depends on the location of the dead cells and how many cells died during the stroke event.
Readers of Brain Injury Survivor’s Guide are familiar with the fact that Beth’s brain injury was caused by an anoxic stroke after suffering Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
Cerebral hemorrhage is another cause of acquired brain injury. One such event of cerebral hemorrhage is known as Arterio-Venous Malformation. Even though a person is born with AVM, it is usually a number of years before it shows its ugly self.
Hydrocephalus gets its name from the Greek words hydro (meaning water) and cephalus (meaning head). It is a condition caused by too much fluid in the brain causing pressure on it. The brain and spinal cord float in a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The amount of CSF surrounding the brain is a delicate balance, and too much causes unwanted pressure. Hydrocephalus can be present at birth, or it can be caused by head trauma or stroke.
Brain Aneurysms are another cause of brain injury. An aneurysm is an abnormal bulging inside a blood vessel. Brain aneurysms, also called intracranial or cerebral aneurysms, are often not noticed until they rupture. This rupture, in turn, becomes a cerebral hemorrhage (mentioned above). It has been estimated that as many as 1 in 15 people in the United States will develop a brain aneurysm during their lifetime.
Acquired brain injuries are about the last thing any person would want to acquire but they are more common than most people believe. People would like to see world peace; they would like to acquire fame and fortune. Acquiring a brain injury is not on anyone’s list.
Once acquired, though, there are many strategies available on a self-help level and many therapies available from speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiatrists and neuromedical personnel that can benefit both those who have suffered an ABI and those that love them.
Life After a Traumatic Brain Injury
Many traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the United States are caused by a slip and fall accident, a high-speed automobile collision, an assault or accident at the workplace. Some of these accidents occur as the result of unsafe premises, vehicle manufacturer defects, unsafe working conditions or a host of other causes that are out of the hands of the victim. But no matter what may have caused the injury, they all have one ironic similarity: every TBI is unique.
The brain is highly complex and every individual brain responds to injury somewhat differently. Even if two injury victims suffer the same type of head trauma, each may develop challenges that are specific to that individual. Personality changes, difficulty with speaking, coordination challenges: all of these may be influenced to varying degrees.
The Center for Disease Control reports that 1.7 million people suffer traumatic brain injury every year and TBI is a contributing factor in more than one-third of all deaths that are injury related in the United States each year.
Because so many people suffer head injuries each year and because the symptoms can vary to such a degree and the challenges can be so difficult to diagnose and treat, brain injury specialists are absolutely crucial for victims to receive the help they need. Due, in part, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the number of troops returning home with head injuries, robust attention is being paid by the public and the medical community to the treatment of brain injury. Increased research and attention to the complexity of head injury have given victims of TBI even more options when it comes to obtaining the best treatment for themselves or their loved one. Some of these options include acute rehabilitation services that provide intensive treatment, coma treatment centers, transitional living programs, long-term residential programs for individuals unable to live on their own, in-home services provided by professional caregivers and day programs in which the patient returns home at night.
The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) offers step-by-step advice for selecting the right treatment facility in “A Guide to Selecting and Monitoring Brain Injury Rehabilitation Services.” Perhaps one of the most important points they make is the following: “Explore more than one program” because “there are hundreds of rehabilitation programs and services to choose from. The closest one, or the one with the most services is not necessarily the one that will best meet your needs.” And as the title of the BIAA document suggests, selecting a program is only a start. The facility and treatment provided should be monitored and assessed on a regular basis.
Caring for a loved one at home is also possible but this may require substantial adaptations to the home for wheelchair accessibility and other alterations. The Family Caregiver Alliance may be a helpful resource for making this decision. But in their “Taking Care of You” article, they make clear that caring for an injured loved one may lead to anxiety, stress, and even depression. While this choice may be right depending on the severity of the injury and other factors, what may appear to be the compassionate decision may not be in the best interest of the caregiver or the injury victim. In the long run, more services may be necessary to handle the unforeseen consequences of trying to provide long-term care to a loved one who has suffered a TBI.