Definition of an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

An Acquired Brain Injury or ABI is an injury to the brain that occurs after birth. It is an injury to the brain resulting in deterioration of cognitive, physical, emotional or independent functioning. A neuropsychological assessment is sometimes essential in determining the cause of a person’s problem.

Brain injuries can be divided into those that are traumatic and those considered non-traumatic (see below).

Traumatic Non-traumatic
Car Accidents Inflammatory diseases (e.g., meningitis)
Falls Stroke (e.g., haemorrhage)
Assaults / Physical abuse Substance misuse
Gunshot wounds Hypoxia (oxygen deprivation)

Difference between ABI and Developmental conditions.

It is important to distinguish an Acquired Brain Injury and developmental conditions which are present at birth (e.g., Chromosomal and Genetic Abnormalities, Intellectual Disabilities, Autism). Examples of ABI and developmental conditions follow.

Acquired Brain Injuries Developmental Conditions
Trauma Autism
Infection Fragile-X Syndrome
Hypoxia Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR)
Meningitis Turner Syndrome
Brain Tumours Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

What are the general effects of ABI?

ABI can affect any area of a person’s abilities (physical, sensory, cognitive, emotional and behavioural).

Thinking or cognitive problems are often the major area of difficulty after an ABI but may not be immediately apparent or obvious. This can lead to misunderstanding as it can be assumed that if people look all right, they are all right.

In reality, the cognitive, emotional and personality changes following ABI are often more difficult to deal with than physical problems. Moreover, physical problems tend to resolve more than cognitive problems.

A Severe ABI can:

  • • impact upon work, schooling, relationships, recreation, family and social activities.
  • • be devastating for the individual and their family

It is important therefore that the community and particularly service agencies (eg schools) understand the impact of ABI so that they can provide appropriate information and support services related to education

Severity of ABI

The problems caused by ABI can be mild, moderate, severe, very severe or extremely severe. The effects of a mild injury may resolve, though some people have longer-term problems. Moderate or severe brain injuries typically always cause longer-term problems.

For more information please see the section on PTA and GCS as well as on severity.

Neurodynamics provides a variety of services across this area, including neuropsychological assessment for medico-legal and rehabilitation services. Referrals are accepted for a variety of different assessment purposes.


Dr Nathaniel Popp
Clinical Neuropsychologist
BA., MA., DPsych., MAPS., CCN Member
TAC Provider number: 160 603 50
WorkCover Provider number: PS5676B

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