Patients with acquired brain injury have 'nowhere to go'


Lack of facilities means thousands of young people are living in nursing homes or acute hospitals

THERE IS a “silent epidemic” of acquired brain injury (ABI) in this country with 127,000 people affected, many of whom have no access to rehabilitation, a leading campaigner said yesterday.

Barbara O’Connell, chief executive of Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABII), said many thousands of young people were living indefinitely in nursing homes or acute hospitals because they had nowhere else to go.

She was speaking in Sligo where Junior Minister John Moloney officially opened a transitional living unit for people with ABI, the first such facility in the country.

A joint project by the HSE and ABII, it supports people with brain injuries from Sligo, Leitrim and west Cavan to return to independent living.

It caters for four full-time residents while also operating as a hub for many more patients and their families who benefit from a range of support services.

According to Ms O’Connell, each year more than 13,000 people acquire a brain injury, 10,000 of whom are admitted to hospital. These injuries are as a result of road traffic accidents, stroke, brain haemorrhage, drugs overdose and other factors.

The most at-risk category were young men, who were sustaining horrific injuries in road accidents, said Ms O’Connell. “We are also seeing a significant rise in the number of people who are victims of violent assaults and, again, the most at-risk group are young men,” she said.

With just 48 beds in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, Ms O’Connell said many people did not have access to appropriate care.

“A lot of young people in their 30s and 40s are having strokes, but the stroke units cater for people who are over 65,” she said.

She said many young adults ended up in nursing homes and some had been placed in Alzheimer’s units, which meant they were living in locked units because there was nowhere appropriate for them.

Speaking at the official opening in Sligo, Mr Moloney said individuals affected by a brain injury often faced a dramatically altered life. He said the service offered support to both the individual and their loved ones, as a brain injury had consequences for the whole family.

Ms O’Connell said that with tailor-made rehabilitation programmes, many people would return to live in their communities, resume work and improve their quality of life, but transitional units were needed throughout the country to help people take that step back into family life.