Every day, 99 New Zealanders sustain a brain injury. Brain injuries are more common than you think, and can happen to anyone at anytime. Learn more about brain injuries here.


Brain Injury (sometimes known as head injury) is damage caused to living brain tissue.  Medically it is referred to as Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), indicating that it is an injury that occurred after birth and is not related to a congenital disorder.


Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can occur when damage is caused to the brain by an external mechanical force and there are two types of injury.

Closed: blunt impact or blow to the head without breaking the skull e.g. car crash, fall. The most common form of TBI is concussion which is in fact a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). You don’t have to lose consciousness to be concussed.

Open: when skull is broken by an object or an explosive missile e.g. bullet wounds.

Medical event can include:

  • Strokes and aneurysms
  • Infections
    • Meningitis and encephalitis
  • Hypoxia / anoxia
  • Cerebral tumours
  • Metabolic disorders
    • Drugs and alcohol
    • Gases (carbon monoxide)
    • Solvents
    • Pesticides
    • Lead poisoning

Whatever the cause the resulting damage can have a huge impact on the person’s life affecting the individual’s abilities physically, cognitively and emotionally.

A new brain injury occurs every 15 minutes in New Zealand, far surpassing the number of heart attacks and more than five times the number of new strokes. The estimated cost on the health system is $100 million a year, but it is expected that this figure will rise significantly. A brain injury, including stroke and traumatic brain injury, is the leading cause of disability and death in New Zealand. However, the real cost in terms of rehabilitation, family impact and far reaching social implications for people whose head injury lasts a lifetime, is incalculable.
The BIONIC (Brain Injury Outcomes NZ in the Community) study published in The Lancet 22 November 2012


There are many effects from a brain injury, people will be affected differently.  Everyone is different in the way that they react to a brain injury.

Some may experience a period of unconsciousness lasting minutes, days or in some cases months.

No one can be sure of the eventual outcome because the brain is so complicated. Recovery is dependent on various factors some are the severity of the injury, length of time unconscious, opportunities for rehabilitation, mental and physical wellbeing. Recovery after brain injury can take weeks or months of rehabilitation with the possibility of some residual impairment.


A brain injury may affect a person physically, and emotionally, as well as impacting cognition, memory, sensory perception, personality and the ability to communicate.

Ongoing problems may include:

  • Cognitive problemsg. difficulties with thinking clearly, maintaining concentration, problem solving and completing projects.
  • Memory problems particularly with learning and remembering new information.
  • Physical problemsg. with sense of balance, fatigue causing reduced mental and physical stamina, slower reflexes and headaches.
  • Sensory problems g. lower tolerance to light and noise, or problems with taste, smell and touch. Difficulties in crowded places.
  • Communication difficulties finding the right words, making it difficult to express yourself or your ability to understand others.
  • Personality changesg. irritability, intolerance, depression, anxiety, emotionally fragile, socially inappropriate behaviour and mood swings.
  • Loss of contact with friends and associates.

What Is A Brain Injury? (Factsheet)

Impact on Family & Whanau

A brain injury doesn’t only affect the individual, the whole family is affected.

Families face many difficulties including:

  • The rollercoaster of emotions that a brain injury brings, it can involve coping with intensive care and other medical treatments and trying to understand a lot of new information
  • Changes in relationships / roles
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal issues
  • Isolation and stress while supporting someone with an injury
  • Having to engage with organisations such as ACC, Work & Income around entitlements
  • Anxiety around the future as well as adjusting to how the impact the injury impacts on the individual and other family members/ friends.
  • Stress

Coping (Factsheet)