Synapse email updates


What's in an update?

Synapse endeavours to keep you updated with the latest information and news. If you would like to receive our monthly E-newsletter, please fill out your information above and we can keep you in the know!


Get The Facts

Acquired Brain Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury & Brain Disorders

Information Services

Types of brain disorders

Acquired Brain Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury & Brain Disorders

Over the years a brain injury has been called many things including, head damage, Acquired Brain Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury. 

There are many problems with the wide number of terms used to describe brain injuries, making it difficult to:

  • find relevant information
  • form accurate statistics
  • apply for funding and research
  • create widespread public awareness
  • provide consistent support and information services.


Synapse is moving toward using the term 'brain disorder' to cover all forms of brain injury in order to resolve these problems. 


Over 2 million Australians are affected with some form of Brain Disorder - that's over 1 in 12.   Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is a complex spectrum disorder that refers to any type of brain damage or neurological disruption occurring after birth. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM5) has recently moved to the term 'Neurocognitive Disorder' as a descriptor for this condition. 'Neurocognitive Disorder' relates to the same spectrum of impairments as 'Acquired Brain Injury' with causes including trauma, vascular disease, Alzheimer's disease and infection4. 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 understanding. In view of this shift, 'Neurocognitive Disorder' will be used interchangeably with 'Acquired Brain Injury'.


Due to the complexity of functions the brain undertakes, and the localization of these functions, organic damage to the brain can cause a wide range of effects, not limited to cognitive deficits4. Sight, hearing, and movement can all be affected by damage to specific areas of the brain. People with Acquired Brain Injuries therefore, have a higher average number of co-morbid disabilities than individuals diagnosed with other disabilities (see Graph 1. below).


ABI & Neurocog 2 


Neurocognitive Disorders are also closely correlated with Mental Health Disorders. A Neurocognitive Disorder is defined by a shift in abilities and functioning that can often lead to Mental Health issues. AIHW3 states over 40% of people with an ABI have a co-morbid Mental Health issue(AIHW). Substance use is also common within this population, leading to many other complications and often secondary brain injuries5.


Co-morbid Mental Health and Neurocognitive Disorders can often lead to social exclusion5. This social exclusion then regularly leads to homelessness, and can also lead to an increased risk of entering the criminal justice system5.  Neurocognitive Disorders are over-represented in the prison population with 65% of people in Australian prisons reporting a Traumatic Brain Injury in a year in comparison with 32% of people in the community2.  Please note, that the statistics purporting over 2 million Australians with an ABI does not include those homeless or in the criminal justice system.

Youth risk-taking behaviour including assault, traffic accidents, and substance use can also lead to increased incidence of Neurological Disorders. As you can see from Graph 2. (below), there is a considerable spike in incidence of ABI for 18-25 years old, reinforcing the importance of prevention, early-intervention and harm-minimisation measures to decrease this risk-taking behaviour.


ABI & Neurocog 1


To reiterate, the term Neurocognitive Disorder will allow for earlier detection of cognitive issues leading to increased ability for early intervention. This move will increase the strain on services that are currently more reactive than proactive. Increased diagnosis of Neurocognitive Disorders will call for a shift in service provision, requiring a response from services before situations deteriorate into crisis.


Further exacerbating the strain on the sector's current available services is the ageing population. With life expectancy relatively unaffected, an ABI experienced in earlier life will continue with someone as they age for the entirety of their life. The incidence of falls and vascular difficulties increase as people age. This can magnify existing ABI's as well as lead to new Brain Injuries in otherwise healthy individuals.



References and further information

  1. Adjusted from data in World Health Organization. (2006).Neurological Disorders: Public Health Challenges. Switzerland: WHO Press.
  2. Perkes, I.,  Schofield, P. W., Butler, T., Hollis, S. J. (2011). Traumatic brain injury rates and sequelae: Acomparison of prisoners with a matched community sample in Australia. Brain Injury, 25, 131-141. 
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2007) Disability in Australia: acquired brain injury. Bulletin no. 55. Cat no. AUS 96. Canberra: AIHW.
  4. DSM-5: The Future of Psychiatric Diagnosis,
  5. Baldry, E., Dowse, L., Snoyman, P., Clarence, M. & Webster, I. (2008). A Critical Perspective on Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System. Proceedings of the 2nd Australian & New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference, 19-20 June 2008.

Our partners