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Acquired brain injury in adults

How does it affect you?

Most adults who have had meningitis will experience headaches, fatigue and difficulties with memory and concentration during the early recovery period. For many people these will be temporary, and as the inflammation around the brain decreases these symptoms will steadily reduce.

However, for some people the inflammation can cause more permanent injury to the brain. This is called acquired brain injury (ABI).

ABI after meningitis can cause behavioural, emotional, cognitive, communication, sensory and physical difficulties. Many of the changes caused by ABI are subtle and can sometimes be difficult to identify; each person will be affected differently. People can find it hard to describe the changes they are experiencing, and it may be close family or friends who initially notice these changes.

If you are concerned about any aspect of your health or wellbeing after having meningitis, it is important to speak to your GP. Try to describe how you are feeling and explain the impact that any changes are having on your life.

Effects of acquired brain injury

The following information briefly describes the different effects of ABI. Some behavioural and emotional changes are not only caused by ABI, but also by the impact of having a serious, life-threatening illness.


Changes in behaviour can include disinhibition, impulsiveness, obsessiveness, irritability or aggression, apathy or loss of initiative, and egocentricity (self-centredness.

For some people, changes in behaviour may be temporary but for others, the changes are more permanent. Any change in behaviour can be difficult and distressing to accept, not only for the person affected, but also for their family and close friends.


Emotional changes and difficulties can include personality changes, mood swings or a loss of control of emotions, anxiety, frustration and anger.

Depression and sense of loss are common. Depression can be caused by injury to the areas of the brain that control emotion. However, it can also be related to the person realising the full impact and effects of their injury. After ABI, many important aspects of personal, social and work life may be permanently changed and this can cause sadness, anger or guilt.


ABI can cause changes in the way a person thinks, learns and makes decisions. Cognitive skills include memory, attention, concentration and executive functions such as reasoning, problem solving, processing information and the use or understanding of language.


Communication difficulties caused by ABI include language impairment (aphasia), speech difficulties and cognitive communication difficulties.

The ability to communicate is a complex process that involves many aspects of cognitive and social skills, together with the ability to understand and use speech and language. If hearing or sight have also been affected by ABI, this can also have a significant impact on the ability to communicate effectively.


ABI can disrupt any part of the sensory system that processes and transmits sensory information. Hearing, sight, taste, smell and touch can all be affected.

Hearing difficulties are the most common sensory after effect of meningitis, and damage to the inner ear can also cause changes in balance.

If the visual pathways are damaged, a person may have difficulties with vision (the ability to see) and visual perception (the ability to understand what is seen).


The physical changes that can be caused by ABI include movement and coordination difficulties, muscle weakness or paralysis, fatigue, seizures or epilepsy, and hormonal imbalance.

The information above highlights the many and varied ways in which an ABI after meningitis can have an impact. Each person’s experience will be unique and it is important to find the right treatment and support.

If you are concerned about any aspect of your health or wellbeing after having meningitis, it is important to speak to your GP. Try to describe how you are feeling and explain the impact that any changes are having on your life.

Been affected or have a question?

Contact our nurse-led helpline on 0808 80 10 388 or email helpline@meningitisnow.org.