Brain Injury the Big Picture

Brain Image courtesy of DreamDesigns FreeDigitalPhotosnet“What is brain injury?” and you might add “And why do I want to know?

You might want to know because brain injury is more common that most of us realise. You are very likely to know someone with a brain injury in your lifetime.

You might want to know because you will understand more about supporting a person who has a brain injury.

Image FreeDigitalPhotos

You might want to know because the brain is a fascinating and amazing organ and you just want to understand more.

So what is it? Can it be simply defined? It would seem a simple thing to explain.
“It’s when the brain is injured.” “It’s when an injury occurs to the brain.” Simple huh!   You have probably already found out differently. How many definitions have you come across? This here is just a summary, if I miss something please add a comment at the end.

You are likely to find a wide variation of definitions. As with most things in brain injury it seems “Why keep this simple when we can make it incredibly complicated”.

Let me try and summarise some of what you might find.

Firstly here is a short, sharp definition of brain injury and the one used here at Changed Lives, New Journeys:

Any damage to the brain, whatever the cause that occurs any time after birth

That’s a short simple description. There is no standard, generally agreed definition; so not everyone will be using that same definition.


Here are some of the differences you might see included or excluded in definitions:

1) Specific causes of brain injury might be included (or not) – for instance it might include only traumatic brain injury, it might exclude degenerative disorders.

2) Age might be specified. Some definitions might state after birth only, or after a child’s developmental years, or not including people over 65years.

3) Before at or After birth. Some definitions include trauma during birth in the definition, others after birth, and others after early developmental stages. The argument can be that damage during, or after birth, and during early years, can have similar outcomes to other developmental disability so is included in this group.

4) Whether the person was in coma or not, and possibly what level of coma.

5) The severity of injury which might include the level of impact on the person, or the effects of the brain injury or how long effects persist. There is a growing understanding now that concussion is linked to brain injury.

6) Whether the injury is mild, moderate or severe.

There are many variations and views about what is in and what is out; I remember a strong disagreement from an aged care worker who was adamant that dementia was not a brain injury. Yet it is often described as the major cause of brain injury in people over 85 years.


You may also notice there are different terms used.

When I started out, the term used was Head Injury, this is not so common now. It was found people misunderstood the term, and would think it meant only superficial damage to the head, rather than permanent damage to the brain.

Other terms you might see are acquired brain injury (ABI),  brain injury (BI),  acquired brain damage (ABD) and  Traumatic brain injury (TBI).

TBI is used when brain injury is caused by a traumatic event or accident. Brain injury caused by degenerative disease is more often described by the name of the disease or disease process e.g. dementia, motor neurone disease. If you are searching for information, it is worth trying a range of terms around your area of research.

Here at Changed Lives New Journeys the term Brain Injury will be used, covering all types, all causes, and the different levels of impact of damage to the brain.


Are you asking “Why do I need to know all this stuff?”
• It will help you understand the diagnosis of the person you are supporting
• It may help you to identify a person with a potential (and possibly undiagnosed) brain injury
• It can be a first step in developing effective strategies
• Knowledge of the different terms used will help in your research and learning.

Look forward to any other information you can add here.


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