Effects of brain injury
Every brain is unique, and every brain injury is unique. The same injury can affect two people very differently.
An acquired brain injury can impact the body, the mind, emotions, behaviour, or a combination of these. Many of the impacts overlap, and often they are ‘hidden’ and not obvious to others.
How the person is affected usually depends on what area of the brain was damaged. Other factors also play a part, like age, education, and support from family and friends. Following a brain injury many people make a very good recovery, while others are left with longer term effects.
Sometimes survivors may require a wheelchair or mobility aid because their movement is reduced, or their balance makes it difficult to walk. Those impacted by stroke also commonly experience some physical weakness, particularly down one side of the body.
- Movement can become slow
- Problems with balance and coordination
- Abnormal muscle tone and stiffness
- Uncontrolled movements or tremors (also known as Ataxia)
- Physical weakness or paralysis
Sensations can be lost or impaired, either in the short or long term. The person injured may also have problems knowing where their body or limbs are, without looking at them.
- Lost or reduced hearing, vision, taste, smell, touch
- Damage to the optic nerve and other parts of the brain can result in a visual blind spot, or partial vision loss
How your body responds to a brain injury can depend on the area of the brain injured. The impacts may include:
- Experiencing higher or lower body temperature
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bowel and bladder problems
- Different sleep patterns
- Difficulty regulating your heartbeat
Brain injury can make some people prone to seizures or ‘fits’. It is difficult to predict if a person will develop seizures. It may be possible to reduce the likelihood of seizures with specific medication.
Some people impacted by brain injury also experience difficulties with speech. They may have problems speaking as fast as before, or their speech may be slurred.
Memory problems are common after a brain injury, particularly short-term memory problems. This means a person may have more difficulty remembering recent events or learning new events, even if they are able to remember skills and information learned in the past. This is because the damaged brain may be unable to organise and remember new material. Memory problems can include:
- Less ability to process information
- Difficulty remembering faces or names
- Difficulty remembering what has been read or said to you
- Forgetting to keep appointments
- Difficulty learning new skills
- Challenges retrieving long-term memories
Concentration may be affected by brain injury, especially when there are also memory problems. It may be harder to pay attention to more than one thing or for long periods of time.
- Struggling to pay attention
- Difficulty paying attention to more than one thing
- Easily distracted
- Feeling of restlessness
- Less ability to focus on one thing for a longer period of time
- Less ability to finish tasks
Language loss after a brain injury is known as ‘aphasia’. Aphasia can make it difficult to understand what is being read or said. It can also prevent someone finding the right words to say or write what they want to say. This can cause frustration for the person and others.
- Problems understanding speech
- Difficulty in expressing thoughts
- Difficulty putting words in order
- Problems starting and joining a conversation
- Going ‘off topic’ more easily
Problems with Executive Functioning after a brain injury can make it difficult for a person to plan, solve problems and make decisions day-to-day. This can be due various challenges, including:
- Reduced judgement
- Reduced ability to think logically and understand rules
- Thinking and acting impulsively
- Less ability to anticipate consequences
- Reduced motivation to initiate tasks or activities
- Not thinking through the sequence of what needs to be done
- Less ability to evaluate the results of actions
- Less ability to change behaviour based on consequences
Reduced insight, or lack of ‘self-awareness’, is common after a brain injury. This can make it difficult to observe and reflect on one’s own behaviour. It can also be very difficult to read the behaviour of other people. This can be particularly frustrating for the person injured, their friends and family.