Types of brain disorders
Definition of a brain injury: terms of reference
Over the years a brain injury has also been
called a head injury, brain damage, acquired brain injury,
neurocognitive disorder and a traumatic brain injury.
There are also types of brain injury such as strokes, dementia
and brain tumours that we might not automatically think of when we
hear the term brain injury.
It is important to not only define what a brain injury is, but
also have a term that encompasses all the different types. Why is
For too long various types of brain injury have been more
defined by their causes than the effects they produce and
therefore the treatment and support needed. For example, a stroke,
dementia and a brain tumour can lead to very similar effects but
are regarded as very separate disorders.
This creates many problems, particularly when trying to raise
awareness of what has often been called the invisible disability.
This also ties in to the difficulty of obtaining funding and
services when so many 'types' of brain injury are under different
Charities, disability services and community organizations are
usually created and operated around a specific disability and this
becomes part of their identity. As time passes, there are
changes in the research and evidence for various disabilities and
organizations must evolve to not only survive, but best meet the
needs of their clients.
Neurocognitive Disorder - a better
definition of brain injury?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5
(DSM5) has recently moved to the term 'Neurocognitive Disorder'
which is very similar to the older term 'Acquired Brain Injury'. It
still covers causes such as trauma, vascular disease, Alzheimer's
disease and infection.
The term Neurocognitive Disorder, however, provides a diagnosis
for people experiencing cognitive symptoms alone, without memory or
physical impairments. This means that many individuals who are not
currently receiving recognition or services (due to the lack of
memory or physical impairments) will have this opportunity for
Brain Disorder - a more inclusive
At Synapse, we are moving toward an even more inclusive
definition by using the term 'Brain Disorder' - a disruption of
normal brain functioning due to disease, trauma or genetics
What are some of the problems with the widely used term
'acquired brain injury'? First, the word 'injury' is concerned with
harm done to the body which tends to preclude dementia, brain
tumours and multiple sclerosis. 'Disorder' means the disruption of
normal functioning so is a much more inclusive term.
The word 'acquired' refers to a brain injury that has been
sustained after birth, which precludes disorders such as Fetal
Alcohol Syndrome which occur in the womb. In the USA, the term
'traumatic brain injury' is very common but this precludes many
types of brain injury caused by lack of oxygen, a stroke, epilepsy,
brain tumours and degenerative diseases. Its insistence that the
brain injury must be caused by trauma is a needlessly exclusive
The importance of a good definition
A definition must not only be accurate and evidence-based, but
it must also have a purpose and be used responsibly towards an
altruistic outcome. It is vital that organizations develop a
planned and strategic approach to marketing, with an understanding
of the key demographics.
The reality is that a majority of the community sector has an
issue with branding, with a lack of understanding around what a
brand is, and how to communicate key messages. With so many
organizations struggling to be heard, there is a tendency to say as
much as possible without a focus on what the core outcome is, or to
what audience you are delivering the messages to.
More often than not, a very simple message will be a conduit for
engagement, and thus a much greater understanding.
With an issue as complex as Brain Disorders, it is much more
effective to have an easily understood inclusive definition and
message to promote.