Today is Hats for Headway Day, which is an annual event hosted by Headway in order to raise money for, and create awareness of acquired brain injury.
The World Health Organisation defines acquired brain injury as:
“Damage to the brain, which occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease. These impairments may be temporary or permanent and cause partial or functional disability or psychosocial maladjustment.”
Acquired brain injuries are sudden physical damage to the brain, and in adults are often due to a traumatic head injury, anoxic brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, brain tumours, encephalitis, or meningitis, but can also be caused by external blows, jolts, strokes, or even extremely high internal body temperatures.
Car accidents, sports injuries, violent crime and child abuse often lead to acquired brain injury. According to the NHS, brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in persons under the age of 45, occurring more frequently than breast cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries combined. Sadly, acquired brain injuries are more common in people with pre-existing mental health problems and illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
According to the Brain Injury Society, acquired brain injuries can result in changes to how a person functions in almost all areas of their life.
Regarding physical changes, a person with an acquired brain injury may experience problems with walking, sitting, transfers, bathing, household tasks and have slurred speech and chronic pain, including headaches, and experience fatigue and sleep difficulties.
Regarding cognitive changes, people may take more time to make sense of information and have problems with planning, organising or starting tasks. They may experience problems with their vision, memory, judgement and decision making and may become very impulsive and easily distracted. Confusion is often a big part of someone’s life after an acquired brain injury, and they my have problems understanding conversations, coming up with the right word, talking in grammatically complete sentences, and often experience dis-inhibition, where they have no ‘social filter’.
Regarding emotional changes, someone living with an acquired brain injury may be irritable and suffer from mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety, anger management problems. They may also feel extreme sadness, anger, frustration, loss of sense of self, and anxiety about having another stroke or injury.
Based on all of the above, people with acquired brain injury often struggle with social changes and challenges as well, as they experience awkwardness or inappropriate behaviour due to their difficulty reading social cues. They may isolate themselves as they feel different and lament their loss of privacy, independence, future plans and change of role, such as a parent or caregiver who suddenly becomes the one who has to receive care from others.