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Acquired Brain Injury

Fact Sheet

What is Acquired Brain Injury?

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is a non-degenerative injury to the brain that has occurred since birth. It can be caused by an external physical force, or by a disturbance of the regular metabolic order.The term “Acquired Brain Injury” includes traumatic brain injuries such as open or closed head injuries, and non-traumatic brain injuries such as those caused by

  • strokes and other vascular accidents
  • tumours, infectious diseases
  • hypoxia
  • metabolic disorders (e.g., liver and kidney diseases or diabetic coma)
  • toxic products taken into the body through inhalation or ingestion

How is it manifested?

  • unable to concentrate
  • misunderstands instructions
  • forgets instructions
  • tires easily
  • has difficulty learning new information or concepts
  • has difficulty planning complex tasks
  • has difficulty organizing ideas
  • has difficulty organizing school materials
  • has difficulty getting started on tasks
  • is easily distracted by surrounding activities

Brain injury may occur in one of two ways:

  1. Closed brain injuries occur when there is a non-penetrating injury to the brain with no break in the skull. A closed brain injury is caused by a rapid forward or backward movement and shaking of the brain inside the bony skull that results in bruising and tearing of the brain tissue and blood vessels. Closed brain injuries are usually caused by car accidents and falls. Shaking a baby can also result in this type of injury (Shaken Baby Syndrome).A concussion is a mild type of closed Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body which causes the brain to move back and forth in the skull. Without attention, diagnosis and treatment, the damage to the brain does not have the opportunity to recover, and can easily worsen.
  2. Penetrating, or open head injuries occur when there is a break in the skull, such as when an object pierces the brain.

Who is affected?

According to Brain Injury Canada 160,000 Canadians sustain brain injuries each year. Incidence (and reporting rates) are rising. Over a million Canadians live with the effects of an acquired brain injury. About 50% of all acquired brain injuries in Canada are caused by falls and motor vehicle accidents.

The Think First National Injury Prevention Fundation reports that thirty per cent of all traumatic brain injuries are sustained by children and youth, many of them while participating in sports and recreational activities.

The incidence and prevalence of brain injury outnumbers breast cancer, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDs combined.

Each year, two million people in the U.S.A. experience a brain injury, and 99,000 suffer from long-term disability. Over five million people today are living with an ABI-related disability.


Most studies suggest that once brain cells are destroyed or damaged, generally, they do not regenerate. Recovery after a brain injury can take place in some cases. However, as other areas of the brain compensate for the injured tissue, the brain learns to reroute information and function around the damaged areas. The exact amount of recovery is not predictable at the time of injury and may be unknown for months or even years. Each brain injury and rate of recovery is unique. Recovery from a severe brain injury often involves a prolonged or life-long process of treatment and rehabilitation.

In spite of the fact that survival rates have increased with advanced trauma services and improved treatment options the impact of an acquired brain injury is widely felt by the survivor, family, caregivers, their communities, and in fact, the country as a whole.

Additional Resources:

Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) provide one-stop access to health and personal support services to help individuals live independently in their homes or assist them in making the transition to a long-term care facility. They also provide information about, or link individuals to, services available in the community. Anyone can make a referral – a family member, caregiver, friend, physician or other health care professional.

The Ontario Brain Injury Association’s Caregiver Information Support Link (CISL) is a program, supported by the Ministry of Health, donations and other fundraising activities, to assist persons living with the effects of injury to the brain. This FREE service offers support, empowerment, advocacy and education to survivors, family members and friends. Staff can assist with issues such as rehabilitation, long-term care, housing and employment, auto insurance, disability benefits, worker’s compensation benefits, etc. Brain injury survivors and their caregivers (family, friends, etc.) are invited to become members of OBIA. This FREE membership is available after completing an annual questionnaire. The CISL questionnaire is a tool that measures an individual’s level of community integration and disability.

The Canadian Health Network (CHN) is a national, bilingual health promotion program. The CHN’s goal is to help Canadians find the information they are looking for about how to stay healthy and prevent disease. The CHN does this through a unique collaboration – one of the most dynamic and comprehensive networks in the world. This network of health information providers includes the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and national and provincial/territorial non-profit organizations, as well as universities, hospitals, libraries and community organizations.

The Think First Foundation provides onsite or online chapter training to hospitals and health related facilities. It offers programs to students of all ages: “Street Smart”; the “Safety Super Hero” and thought-provoking programs with VIP speakers –Voices For Injury Prevention – who explain how a traumatic injury needlessly changed their life.
Think First is your resource for educational material and resources; injury prevention programs for all grade levels; training and injury prevention involvement. Think First has joined with Safe Communities Canada, SMARTRISK, and Safe Kids Canada to create Parachute, a national, charitable organization dedicated to preventing injury and saving lives.

The content contained in this document is for general information purposes. It is not the intention to diagnose or treat a child.

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