Better emergency care means that many more people now survive brain and spinal cord injuries. This has given rise to a large population of people living with the effects of these injuries. We have highlighted acquired brain and spinal cord injury as an area in need of increased research investment in order to help people make the best recovery from these injuries.
The term 'acquired' injury encompasses both traumatic injuries (associated with accidents, assaults and falls) and non-traumatic injuries (including stroke, brain and spinal cord tumours and poisoning) . Acquired injuries are distinct from congenital conditions that arise before birth or neurodegenerative conditions that cause gradual damage to the brain.
The number of people affected by acquired brain and spinal cord injuries is hard to define.
It is thought that around one fifth of the 1.6 million people attending hospital with a head injury every year in the UK has a brain injury. This is equivalent to 45,000 people.
Added to this are the non-traumatic injuries - from, for example, stroke (occurs 100,000 times per year in the UK) or brain tumours (11,500 new diagnoses every year in the UK).
And it is estimated that there are around 1,000 new spinal cord injuries in the UK every year.
The number of deaths from brain and spinal cord injury is going down - thanks to better emergency care and, in the case of stroke, better awareness of symptoms, and availability of new clot-busting drugs. But this means that the population of survivors is growing ever bigger.
Estimates of the numbers of people in the UK living with long-term problems as a result of acquired brain or spinal cord injury include:
- 1.2 million stroke survivors
- 420,000 survivors of traumatic brain injury
- 100,000 children and adults living with brain tumours
- 40,000 survivors of spinal cord injury
The day-to-day impact of an injury varies enormously from person to person, depending on the nature, severity, and location of the injury, as well as the treatment and rehabilitation undertaken.
The range of problems is huge and includes impaired movement, cognitive impairment, communication difficulties, emotional issues, fatigue, headaches and pain.
Appropriate rehabilitation plays a vital role in determining the level of recovery. For many people with severe brain injuries, long-term rehabilitation is necessary to maximise function and independence. Rehabilitation does not repair the injury but rather it aims to help the brain to learn alternative ways of working in order to minimise the impact of the injury.
Almost all survivors of severe brain or spinal cord injuries are left with permanent problems, and very few return to a semblance of normal life.
Acquired brain and spinal cord injury is one of Brain Research UK's three priority research areas. This means that we have identified a large unmet need in this area, coupled with a lack of research investment from other sources.
We want to improve the outlook for those affected by brain or spinal cord injury by funding research to advance understanding of how to promote repair of the brain and spinal cord.
We have awarded the following grants for research under this theme: