Brain Injury Awareness Week: shining a light on those living with brain injury

Craig Kallenberg and Headwest chief executive Paul West. Picture: Will Russell
Craig Kallenberg and Headwest chief executive Paul West. Picture: Will Russell

CRAIG Kallenberg is one of the estimated 1.6 million Australians living with some form of brain injury.

The former Bunbury resident began using methylamphetamine when he was 21-years-old and suffered the first of four successive strokes a year later.

The fourth, and most severe, occurred when Mr Kallenberg was 28 and left him unable to perform even the most basic actions.

Three years later Mr Kallenberg’s story and path to rehabilitation, which he shares with high schools around Perth, serves as a cautionary tale to the cohort most at risk of acquired brain injury – 15 to 34-year-old men.

“When I first got to Shenton Park (Rehabilitation Centre) I couldn’t even walk or talk,” he said.

“Nowadays I still struggle with speech and cognitive thinking.”

Currently an independent live-in resident at a Perth-based care facility, Mr Kallenberg has received significant support and is looking forward to re-entering the wider community later this year.

That makes Mr Kallenberg one of the lucky ones, according to Headwest Brain Injury Association of WA chief executive Paul West.

“The World Health Organisation estimates that one in 12 Australians (around 8 per cent) are living with a brain injury but the actual diagnosis rate is closer to 2 per cent,” he said.

“We use that statistic to highlight the vast difference between those that are out there getting help and those that are just slowly sinking in the stream of life wondering what on earth is going on.”

The main causes of brain injury include accident or trauma, stroke, disease or tumours and drug and alcohol abuse.

Mr West said brain injuries with debilitating effects could remain undiagnosed for years.

“Depending on the area of the brain that is damaged there are a whole range of symptoms that can develop,” he said.

“Fatigue, lack of motivation, depression, sleeping difficulties, problems with organisation, anger, communication issues, hearing difficulties, a lack of self-awareness, impulsivity, dizziness, epilepsy, losing the sense of smell, diminishing perception skills, self-centredness, persistent pains and headaches.

“After an accident or a stroke the patient can often eat and drink and walk and talk so they get discharged and then their family has to deal with a person that really is a different personality.

“A lot of these people are not initially eligible for any kind of government support and safety nets only kick in after five years of freefall when their circumstances have significantly deteriorated.”

Brain Injury Awareness Week

AUGUST 15-21 is Brain Injury Awareness Week and Headwest is using the opportunity to draw attention to what it views as a significant and increasing public health challenge.

Based in Alfred Cove, Headwest provides services and support for West Australians who have suffered a brain injury.

The organisation also advocates on behalf of the sector as a whole and is calling for an increase in the availability of low cost support to individuals affected by brain injury.

Mr West said a proactive rather than reactive approach would lessen the long-tern emotional, financial and social costs to both affected individuals and society.

“Headwest knows that people with brain injuries are much more likely to experience poorer general health, mental health issues, relationship breakdowns, unemployment, homelessness and be involved with corrective services,” Mr West said.

“We know that clients that reach out for support, whether that be with re-entering the workforce or counselling and therapy services, have a much higher quality of life than those that don’t.

“The invisible nature of brain injury often means that changes in a person’s personality and behaviour is regarded as poor personal choice rather than a very real injury to the brain.

“If we can see those individuals and refer them onto to the correct services many of their life challenges can be alleviated.”

A spokeswoman for the Disability Services Commission (DSC) said WA was currently rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which would ensure that more people than ever before were eligible for supports and services tailored to their individual needs.

“The DSC provides services and supports to eligible people with disability,” she said.

“Rather than being based on a specific diagnosis or condition however, determining someone’s eligibility also includes looking at how disability affects their day to day life.

“Some people with disability, including those who have brain injury, may require high levels of support, while others may not need, or want, any support.

“If eligible, supports and services are identified as part of a planning process that is undertaken with a local co-ordinator.”

She said anyone with a brain injury that would like know if they are eligible for services and supports should contact a local co-ordinator by phoning 9426 9352.