‘I’ve got to row the boat on my own, more or less’: Aboriginal Australian experiences of traumatic brain injury

Author Identifier

Elizabeth Armstrong Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4469-1117 Deborah Hersh Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2466-0225 Natalie Ciccone Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1822-7217

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Brain Impairment


Cambridge University Press


School of Medical and Health Sciences



Grant Number

NHMRC Number : 1046228


Armstrong, E., Coffin, J., McAllister, M., Hersh, D., Katzenellenbogen, J. M., Thompson, S. C., ... Hayward, C. (2019). ‘I’ve got to row the boat on my own, more or less’: aboriginal Australian experiences of traumatic brain injury. Brain Impairment, 20(2), 120-136. Available here


Background: The overarching cultural context of the brain injury survivor, particularly that related to minority peoples with a history of colonisation and discrimination, has rarely been referred to in the research literature, despite profoundly influencing a person’s recovery journey in significant ways, including access to services. This study highlights issues faced by Australian Aboriginal traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivors in terms of real-life consequences of the high incidence of TBI in this population, current treatment and long-term challenges. Method: A case study approach utilised qualitative interview and file review data related to five male Aboriginal TBI survivors diagnosed with acquired communication disorders. The five TBI survivors were from diverse areas of rural and remote Western Australia, aged between 19 and 48 years at the time of injury, with a range of severity.
Case Reports: Common themes included: significant long-term life changes; short-term and long-term dislocation from family and country as medical intervention and rehabilitation were undertaken away from the person’s rural/remote home; family adjustments to the TBI including permanent re-location to a metropolitan area to be with their family member in residential care; challenges related to lack of formal rehabilitation services in rural areas; poor communication channels; poor cultural security of services; and lack of consistent follow-up. Discussion and Conclusion: These case reports represent some of the first documented stories of Aboriginal Australian TBI survivors. They supplement available epidemiological data and highlight different contexts for Aboriginal people after TBI, contributing to an overall profile that is relevant for rehabilitation service planning.



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