Brain injury: overview

An acquired brain injury (ABI), is defined as ‘any trauma to the head which disrupts the function of the brain’ (NICE 2007). It may involve the scalp, the skull, the brain or its protective membranes. The injury can result in speech, language, communication and swallowing difficulties.  

Acquired brain injury can be grouped into two main types, according to cause:

  • Traumatic Brain injury (TBI) results from an impact to the head, e.g. from a car accident or a fall. Traumatic brain injury, also referred to as ‘head injury’, results from an outside force and subsequent complications which can follow and further damage the brain. These include a lack of oxygen, rising pressure, and swelling within the brain.
  • Non-traumatic (or atraumatic brain injury), these are events going on inside the body, such as, (CARF, 1996):
                • 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. 

Key points:

  • SLTs make a unique contribution to the differential diagnosis of communication and swallowing problems following an ABI:
    • assessing the individual’s residual and emerging abilities, including those factors that can aid or impede recovery.
    • identifying the breadth of communication interactions available.
    • promoting functional communication at each stage of rehabilitation.
  • The presence of cognitive/communication difficulties leads to vulnerability and increased problems in social participation.

  • Paediatric brain injury often does not resolve completely; difficulties can persist or emerge which may have an impact upon education and social integration later in life.

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