The impact of brain injuries

15 August 2022

Brain Injury Awareness Week (15 - 21 August 2022) is an important opportunity to raise awareness of the impact of brain injuries within the veteran community.

Traumatic brain injury results from head trauma causing altered consciousness or post-trauma amnesia and may be categorised as mild, moderate or severe.

Over 28% of Australian Defence Force personnel have experienced at least one mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) in their lifetime. Military personnel most commonly experience TBI with motor vehicle accidents, blasts and falls.

Signs and symptoms of brain injuries

People with mild TBIs can have several different symptoms, most of which occur right after the head injury or the days following.

TBI symptoms vary depending on how severe the injury is and are different for each individual and may change during recovery.

Mild traumatic brain injury can cause:

  • Attention or concentration problems
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Problems with short- or long-term memory
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Feeling foggy or groggy
  • Decreased sleep quality or trouble falling asleep

The impacts of brain injuries

Brain injuries can significantly impact an individual’s physical and psychological wellbeing, including cognitive function, behaviour and mood, muscular instability, vision and speech, and more.  

Brain injuries may then be associated with a significantly increased risk of psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, or substance misuse. An event that causes a TBI can also cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While treatments for TBI focus on easing symptoms and improving quality of life, there is support available.

Psychological services and TBI

Seeking the support of a psychologist can help an individual to adjust to the symptoms of TBI through psychoeducation (learning about TBI and its impacts), as well as help to process the emotional distress of their diagnosis and symptoms.

Seeking support may also help a person identify whether they may be struggling with other disorders such as depression or anxiety after their TBI. 

After any sort of traumatic experience or injury, people will often avoid or disengage from friends, family, work or previously enjoyed activities. Psychological support can make a difference and help an individual re-engage with other people and increase social engagement in enjoyable activities. 

A veteran with TBI may also benefit from a cognitive assessment to identify their strengths and weaknesses to incorporate into their psychological and physical rehabilitation treatment.

Physical rehabilitation and TBI

For a person who has experienced a TBI, physical rehabilitation can improve cognitive function including improvement in executive functioning, learning ability, processing speed, and reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairment e.g., Alzheimer's disease. 

Through engaging in physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength, balance, fatigue, and mobility can all be increased, which may be issues following a TBI. 

Improvements in these areas may lead to increased social participation and self-esteem as well as improved overall quality of life and capacity to complete activities of daily living.

These improvements may have a positive impact on mental health and can result in decreased incidence of depression or anxiety. 

In general, physical activity helps to prevent and manage numerous chronic diseases e.g., hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. 

Physical rehabilitation programs for an individual with TBI are tailored to address the individual’s specific needs and should be combined with appropriate education from an exercise physiologist.

How the Mates4Mates team can help

At Mates4Mates, we see first-hand how brain injuries can affect the lives of veterans and their families. 

To complement medical treatment of a brain injury sustained during military service, we provide psychological support, physical rehabilitation programs and social connection activities for veterans in need and families impacted.

If you’re a current or ex-serving Defence Force member who would like support for a brain injury, or a family member who has been widely impacted, reach out to Mates4Mates on 1300 4 MATES (62 837) to book an appointment.
Van Hooff, M., McFarlane, A., Davies, C., Searle, A., Fairweather-Schmidt, A., & Verhagen, A. et al. (2014). The Australian Defence Force Mental Health Prevalence and Wellbeing Study: design and methods. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 5(1), 23950. doi: 10.3402/ejpt.v5.23950

  • Mental health
  • Physical health and wellbeing

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