About Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)


There are a number of causes of ABI, including:

– Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – which includes open, closed or penetrating head injury – which can occur as a result, for example, of road traffic accidents, sport or leisure pursuits, assaults, and falls;                and

– Non-Traumatic Brain Injury – which may be caused by:

  • strokes and other vascular events, including subarachnoid haemorrhage;
  • tumours;
  • infectious diseases (eg, encephalitis, meningitis);
  • hypoxia (lack of oxygen)
  • metabolic derangement, most commonly due to severe hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar); and
  • toxic products taken into the body through inhalation or ingestion, for example due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Getting help

The acute, hospital phase can be very confusing, and family members and friends need someone they can talk to. We suggest that family members make contact at an early stage with their local Headway group. The Headway UK helpline is also very helpful in giving practical, specialist advice and guidance at all stages of the care pathway.


Headway groups are a source of information on local services, and provide peer support and the opportunity to learn from others who have been through something of the same process.


In the early stages, no one will be able to give you a definite answer to what the future holds. In the first year or two, with the right rehabilitation and support, there will often be considerable improvement. It is only then, that some of the long-term difficulties and challenges will become evident, and then only to the close family and friends. To other people, who won’t be in close, regular contact with the person – particularly where there are no major physical changes – the effects will tend to be ‘invisible’.

In many cases, there is limited physical or sensory disability. The residual – largely hidden – effects tend to be of a cognitive, emotional and behavioural nature, and often quite subtle. In addition to memory problems, such things as a lack of insight, problems with planning and communication, thinking through the consequences of their actions and often a change in personality are common. Also, fatigue can be a major problem after brain injury. All of these effects combine to form a complex disability.

ABI can often result in loss of employment, relationship breakdown, and low self-esteem; and in social isolation for the person, and also for their family. The process of adjustment is very difficult for all. The affected person will in most cases have a normal life expectancy.