Understanding brain injury

The brain weighs approximately three pounds. It has the consistency of blancmange.

It looks like two halves of a walnut and has two hemispheres – left and right.

Your brain consists of around 86 billion nerve cells called neurons. Neurons gather and transmit electrochemical signals – like the gates and wires in a computer.


Structure of the brain

Brain structure Brain structure

An acquired brain injury (ABI) is any brain injury that is not present at birth or degenerative. It can be caused by:

  • trauma to the head – often the result of road accidents, assaults, sporting accidents, industrial accidents and falls.
  • brain tumours
  • oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) – sometimes brought on by heart attacks, carbon monoxide poisoning, respiratory illness or being underwater for a long period
  • infections
  • exposure to toxic substances such as drugs, carbon monoxide, solvents and pesticides
  • strokes.

Physical consequences – and how to manage them

Common physical consequences following an acquired brain injury:
  • fatigue
  • pain, headaches
  • dizziness, problems with balance, nausea
  • change in sleep patterns
  • blurred vision and other altered senses
  • speech difficulties
  • difficulty with mobility: sitting, standing, walking, running.

Helpful responses

 Planning and pacing – plan your day and prioritise the most important tasks when you feel most alert. Factor in breaks and rest periods, and don’t take on too much. Work within your limits.

Regular exercise – cycling, fast walking, swimming and so on. Plan in what you can manage – 30 minutes a day is a good start. Also plan in some exercises to build strength, such as gardening, yoga and housework.

Good sleep – have a warm drink and maybe a bubble bath before going to bed. And remember to switch off your phone.

Relaxation – do whatever works for you. This could involve listening to music, doing puzzles, arts and craft, baking, gardening or yoga. Spend time with family, friends and pets, and get plenty of rest.


Cognitive effects (memory and thought processes)

Acquired brain injury can sometimes cause forgetfulness and affect people’s ability to concentrate or process information.

Helpful responses

Concentration – minimise distractions and write things down if necessary. Pace yourself and relax your breathing

Memory – use rhymes and associations to help you remember things. Repeat something several times to yourself. Divide things into groups.

Processing information – minimise distractions and work or watch something at the best time for you. Take regular breaks. Don’t be afraid to talk to yourself, if that helps you understand something.

Language – if you have difficulty finding the right words or following a conversation, give yourself time. Remove background distractions if you can, and don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat themselves.

Impacts on emotions and behaviour

Acquired brain injury can lead to a variety of impacts on our emotions and behaviour. It can make people angry, irritable, impulsive, self-centred and anxious or agitated. It can cause depression, and result in poor motivation and lack of self-control.

All these changes are common and understandable. There is a huge variation between what different people experience.

Helpful responses

Anxiety and depression – talk to others, and investigate coping strategies which might work for you. Set yourself goals and make practical changes that might enhance your life.

Anger and irritability – do regular physical exercise, try yoga and breathing exercises, and avoid alcohol. Explore new activities to help relieve stress, and get lots of rest and relaxation. Step out of situations which might be making you angry.

Brain injury information