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Acquired Brain Injury Vs. Traumatic Brain Injury

Learn how to support loved ones with brain injuries, focusing on TBI and ABI recovery, through patience, knowledge, and specialized care.
Published on
February 20, 2024
Presented by Givers
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A brain injury is a dramatic life-altering event for your loved one. Brain trauma can affect their health and quality of life in profound ways. How can family caregivers help with recovery? Knowledge is the first step. Become familiar with the basic kinds of brain injuries: traumatic brain injury (TBI) and acquired brain injury (ABI). While these injuries share similarities, caregivers must know their unique characteristics for the correct diagnosis and treatment. 

Definitions and types

Brain injury causes problems with thinking, talking, moving, and feeling emotions. Providing the injured person with support, patience, and understanding improves general wellness. Learn as much as possible about their condition. With time and care, many people with brain injuries will enhance their quality of life.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI is a specific type of damage to the brain. TBI happens when someone experiences sudden trauma that damages the brain tissue, often caused by falls, accidents, collisions, or violence. There are different types of TBI based on the severity:

  • Concussions 
  • Contusions 
  • Hemorrhages

As a family caregiver, learn to recognize signs and symptoms of TBI and seek medical attention if you suspect your loved one has suffered from this type of injury. Remember always to be patient, supportive, and understanding as they recover from their injury.

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

ABI, also known as a non-traumatic brain injury, is a condition that can result from various internal illnesses or toxicity in the body. The common causes of ABI are strokes, tumors, oxygen deprivation, and diseases that attack neurons. There are different types of ABI, which are ischemic and hypoxic brain damage, and their origin classifies them. 

As a family caregiver, be aware of these causes and types of ABI, so you provide appropriate care and support to someone suffering from this condition.


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Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Causes of TBI

TBIs encompass a broad range of severities and symptoms based on factors surrounding physical trauma. Rapid diagnosis aids in optimal recovery. Some common causes of TBI include: 

  • Falls: #1 cause of TBIs, primarily via household falls.
  • Vehicle-related collisions: Major source of head trauma through force impacts.
  • Sports injuries: Concussions common from contact sports.
  • Explosive blasts and other combat injuries are frequent among veterans exposed to explosions.
  • Violence: Abuse and assaults often involve hits causing TBIs.

Symptoms of TBI

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause a range of symptoms, from mild headaches and memory loss to more severe and long-lasting symptoms like seizures, limb paralysis, and confusion. The severity and length of symptoms are based on bleeding and swelling around the brain. Call the doctor immediately if you suspect a TBI to prevent further damage.

Diagnosis and treatment for TBI

When it comes to traumatic brain injuries, diagnosis techniques determine the severity of the injury. CT scans and MRIs confirm the extent of tissue and blood vessel damage. Additionally, cognitive testing evaluates the loss of function. 

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the treatment and rehabilitation process begins. Brain injury treatment depends on the seriousness of the injury. In severe cases, surgery may be required to stop hemorrhaging, followed by intensive inpatient rehabilitation. 

For milder cases, outpatient cognitive and physical therapy is used with monitoring to gauge recovery progress. Treatment and rehabilitation aim to combat the symptoms and help the patient regain as much function as possible.

Acquired Brain Injury 

Causes of ABI

Unlike sudden TBIs, acquired brain injuries emerge from internal crises deep within the most intricate organ-threatening functionality over time. Acquired Brain Injury has many causes:

  • Anoxic/hypoxic injury: Oxygen deprivation from cardiac arrest, respiratory conditions, or other crises where the brain cannot access enough oxygen, leading to permanent neuron damage or death in severe cases.
  • Infectious diseases and toxins: Bacterial or viral infections like meningitis, mad cow disease, or West Nile can ravage brain matter. Toxins like lead and other chemicals also kill cells.
  • Stroke: Vascular blockages or ruptures prevent blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients to brain parts, resulting in rapid tissue necrosis.
  • Tumors: Cancerous masses expanding inside restricted skull space directly destroy and disable delicate tissue while also triggering secondary effects like vascular complications.

Symptoms of ABI

Caregivers first notice physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes. Some of the physical symptoms your loved one may experience include weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, fatigue, headaches, seizures, communication struggles, and vision changes. 

Cognitive symptoms include memory loss, poor concentration, executive dysfunction, and slower information processing. Your loved one may also face speech issues, which can be challenging for them to communicate effectively. If you notice difficulties, contact your loved one's doctor for the proper treatment.

Diagnosis and treatment of ABI

When diagnosing neurological conditions, doctors rely on a combination of techniques. They begin by taking a detailed medical history to identify the onset and progression of the illness. This is followed by imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which confirm the location of any lesions. Neurocognitive evaluations are also conducted to measure any functional losses that may have occurred.

Treatment and rehab differ depending on the underlying cause. Medications may sometimes be prescribed to slow the disease and manage symptoms. In other cases, surgical removal of a tumor may be necessary. 

Physical, functional, and speech therapy can retrain and strengthen the pathways around any damage that may have occurred. Supportive equipment like communication aids and mobility devices assist with everyday tasks.


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Rehabilitation approaches

Rehabilitation approaches for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and acquired brain injury (ABI) share many similarities, as both conditions necessitate comprehensive care that often includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, and psychological support.

For TBI, rehabilitation is typically focused on the specific areas affected by sudden trauma, such as motor skills, cognitive functions, and behavior. The goal is to help individuals regain as much function as possible and learn coping strategies for any remaining disabilities. Interventions may be intensive and begin when the patient is stable, emphasizing recovering lost skills and preventing secondary complications.

For ABI, which includes injuries not caused by external trauma (e.g., strokes, anoxia), rehabilitation approaches also prioritize tailored, multidisciplinary care. Still, they may differ in their focus depending on the cause and extent of the brain injury. Treatment plans are designed to address each individual's unique pattern of cognitive, emotional, and physical challenges, often involving relearning basic functions and adapting to new limitations. The rehabilitation process can be longer or more complex if the ABI involves progressive conditions that cause further decline over time.

Long-term outcomes

The long-term outcomes of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and acquired brain injury (ABI) can be quite varied, reflecting the diverse nature and severity of these conditions. For individuals with TBI, outcomes can range from complete recovery to long-term disabilities affecting physical, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning. Factors influencing these outcomes include the severity of the initial injury, the location of brain damage, and the individual's rehabilitation participation and support network. Long-term challenges may include memory, attention, executive functions, mood regulation, and physical mobility.

For those with ABI, such as from strokes or anoxic brain injuries, the long-term outcomes similarly depend on the injury's severity, affected brain areas, and timely, effective rehabilitation. Some individuals may experience significant improvements and regain much of their pre-injury functioning, while others might face persistent challenges requiring ongoing support. Progressive conditions that cause ABI, like certain neurodegenerative diseases, can lead to gradually worsening outcomes over time, emphasizing the importance of adaptive strategies and supportive care to maintain quality of life.

Early and ongoing rehabilitation, a robust support system, and access to specialized healthcare services are crucial in optimizing long-term outcomes. Advances in medical and rehabilitation techniques continue to improve the prospects for individuals with TBI and ABI, highlighting the potential for significant recovery and adaptation even in the face of severe brain injuries.

Government programs to support individuals with brain injuries

Government programs aimed at supporting individuals with brain injuries often encompass a range of services, including healthcare, rehabilitation, and social support. The specific programs available can vary by country and region, but generally, they include:

Medicaid Waivers

Government programs for individuals with brain injuries offer various support services, including healthcare and social assistance. Key options include:

Medicaid Waivers

In the United States, Medicaid waivers allow states to provide services to individuals who might otherwise require institutional care. These waivers can cover home and community-based services (HCBS) for individuals with brain injuries, offering an alternative supporting independence and community living. In particular, waivers with a participant direction option give individuals or their families more control over the selection and management of their care services.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

These programs provide financial assistance to eligible individuals with disabilities, including those resulting from brain injuries. SSDI is available to individuals who have worked and paid into Social Security, while SSI benefits are aimed at low-income individuals who have not earned enough credits for SSDI.

State brain injury programs

Many states have specific programs designed to support individuals with brain injuries. These can include rehabilitation services, support groups, vocational rehabilitation, and other community-based services aimed at helping individuals adjust to life after a brain injury.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Programs

For veterans who have suffered brain injuries during their service, the VA offers specialized healthcare services, rehabilitation, and support programs. These can include comprehensive care through VA medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics.

Community and Block Grant Programs

Programs like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) can fund local communities to establish or expand services for individuals with disabilities, including those with brain injuries.

National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)

While not a direct provider of services, NIDILRR funds research and projects across the U.S. aimed at improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, including the development and evaluation of services and technologies for people with brain injuries.

A note from Givers

Being a family caregiver for someone with a brain injury can be a challenging but gratifying experience. Educate yourself about the different types of brain injuries. Stay committed to ongoing care and support, and help your loved one navigate their new reality with compassion and perseverance. Remember to take care of yourself, too, and seek out resources and support from others. Together, you can make a real difference in your loved one's recovery journey.

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