Acquired brain injury (ABI) refers to any damage to the brain that occurred after birth. Common causes of ABI include accidents, stroke, lack of oxygen and degenerative neurological disease. ABI-related disability can affect cognitive, physical, emotional and independent functioning.

This bulletin provides data on the prevalence of ABI in Australia, and includes details of the support needs of, and services received by, people with ABI-related disability. It updates key analyses published previously (AIHW: Fortune and Wen 1999; AIHW 2003).

Based on analyses of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers:

  • ABI is common: around 1 in 45 Australians (432,700 people) had ABI with activity limitations or participation restrictions due to disability. Almost three-quarters of these people were aged less than 65 years

  • About 20,000 children aged under 15 years had ABI

  • People with ABI tended to have complex disability. They reported more disability groups and more health conditions than the average person with disability

  • ABI prevalence rates increased with age. People aged 65 years or over were more than twice as likely as those aged under 65 years to have ABI with activity limitations or participation restrictions

  • Prevalence rates were higher for males than females at all ages

  • ABI was the main disabling condition reported by about 27,300 people aged under 65 years. A traffic injury was the main cause for more than half (55%) of these people

  • More than one in three people with ABI aged under 65 years needed help with cognitive and/or emotional tasks.

ABI caused by a traumatic event, such as a traffic accident or blow to the head, is referred to as traumatic brain injury. According to hospital records:

  • There were almost 21,800 hospital stays relating to traumatic brain injury in 2004–05

  • The age-standardised hospitalisation rate for traumatic brain injury was more than twice as high for males as females

  • Between 1999–2000 and 2004–05, the age-standardised rate of traumatic brain injury hospitalisations among children aged less than 15 years fell by more than one-fifth.

In 2004–05, almost 12,000 people with ABI used specialist disability services funded under the Commonwealth State/Territory Disability Agreement (CSTDA). These service users accounted for about 6% of CSTDA-funded disability service users.