Nav: Home

UBCO researcher examines traumatic brain injury in survivors of intimate partner violence

November 19, 2019

While the diagnoses and treatment of sport-related concussion have well-established guidelines and protocols, a new study from UBC's Okanagan campus is looking at what has previously been an understudied group--women survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Their hope is to develop a simple screening tool to help front-line services, like women's shelters, identify traumatic brain injury (TBI) earlier, says Paul van Donkelaar, lead researcher and professor with the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

"It is widely known survivors of intimate partner violence face many short- and long-term consequences from abuse which can have profound impacts on both their mental and physical health," says van Donkelaar. "But there is currently very little direct evidence for the potential link between this violence and traumatic brain injury-induced brain dysfunction."

Despite the abundance of research and public awareness around brain injury in athletes, van Donkelaar says traumatic brain injuries suffered by survivors of IPV are largely ignored. In fact, his most recent research, which is hoping to establish the incidence and effects of TBI on these women, is only the fourth study he knows of that deals specifically with this issue.

"IPV happens behind closed doors and usually there are no witnesses--if there are witnesses they are generally the children and they are traumatized," says van Donkelaar, adding that if a survivor does seek medical help after an attack it is often for other traumatic injuries. "In many cases, survivors of IPV don't necessarily know they have had a traumatic brain injury and yet they are suffering from chronic symptoms including headaches, dizziness, and difficulty remembering," he says.

"If a brain injury is diagnosed, it might be several months or even years after the initial damaging blow took place. And was it caused by one blow, multiple attacks over several months, or from being shaken or even strangled?"

While diagnosis is a challenge, there also remains a social stigma with IPV. Van Donkelaar says many women who do seek medical help, may not tell the truth when asked how the injury occurred. For these reasons alone, van Donkelaar and his research team, including former UBCO postdoctoral fellow Jonathan Smirl, want to make concussion assessments and care for survivors of IPV accessible and straightforward.

"Although the health care system is a good place for TBI diagnoses in the context of IPV, many survivors do not feel comfortable accessing care in this manner so this leaves staff at women shelters as the first line of defense," says Smirl. "Yet these staff members aren't necessarily aware TBI can be part of their client's experience and currently do not have appropriate screening tools available to them."

For this latest research, the team used two brain injury questionnaires--the Brain Injury Severity Assessment tool (BISA) and the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT5)--to get a better sense of the symptoms experienced by survivors of IPV. Eighteen women who had experienced IPV took the part in the study.

The research, published in Brain Injury, determined that by using the BISA test, which asks questions about symptoms resulting from episodes of IPV, more brain injuries were reported by the survivors. The study determined that each of the participants have suffered at least one previous TBI, and most had suffered many.

"It's estimated that several hundred thousand Canadian women a year experience a TBI, an even greater number than hockey or football players," says Smirl. "And yet, due to the perceived stigma around IPV, many of these women don't seek medical support. Unfortunately, living in this situation is their normal, waking up in a daze because she was punched again is her normal. Not only is it going undiagnosed, it's going untreated."

The findings from the current investigation can help develop TBI-informed screening tools to help front-line staff at women's shelters identify a brain injury as a possible factor in the symptoms experienced by IPV survivors.

"What we're hoping to do is implement a simple informed screening tool, just a few questions that front-line staff can ask which can help reveal whether a woman has potentially experienced an IPV-related TBI," he says. "We will then be able to use it as a means to refer them to appropriate supports in the community."

Van Donkelaar says providing these practical support resources to IPV survivors will improve their chances of breaking the cycle and enable them to move forward into an abuse-free future for themselves and their children.

University of British Columbia Okanagan campus

Related Traumatic Brain Injury Articles:

Reducing dangerous swelling in traumatic brain injury
After a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the most harmful damage is caused by secondary swelling of the brain compressed inside the skull.
Blue light can help heal mild traumatic brain injury
Daily exposure to blue wavelength light each morning helps to re-entrain the circadian rhythm so that people get better, more regular sleep which was translated into improvements in cognitive function, reduced daytime sleepiness and actual brain repair.
Dealing a therapeutic counterblow to traumatic brain injury
A team of NJIT biomedical engineers are developing a therapy which shows early indications it can protect neurons and stimulate the regrowth of blood vessels in damaged tissue.
Predictors of cognitive recovery following mild to severe traumatic brain injury
Researchers have shown that higher intelligence and younger age are predictors of greater cognitive recovery 2-5 years post-mild to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Which car crashes cause traumatic brain injury?
Motor vehicle crashes are one of the most common causes of TBI-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths.
Traumatic brain injury and kids: New treatment guidelines issued
To help promote the highest standards of care, and improve the overall rates of survival and recovery following TBI, a panel of pediatric critical care, neurosurgery and other pediatric experts today issued the third edition of the Brain Trauma Foundation Guidelines for the Management of Pediatric Severe TBI.
Addressing sleep disorders after traumatic brain injury
Amsterdam, NL, December 10, 2018 - Disorders of sleep are some of the most common problems experienced by patients after traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Rutgers researchers discover possible cause for Alzheimer's and traumatic brain injury
Rutgers researchers discover a possible cause for Alzheimer's and traumatic brain injury, and the new mechanism may have also led to the discovery of an effective treatment.
Traumatic brain injury recovery via petri dish
Researchers in the University of Georgia's Regenerative Bioscience Center have succeeded in reproducing the effects of traumatic brain injury and stimulating recovery in neuron cells grown in a petri dish.
Traumatic brain injury may be associated with increased risk of suicide
An increased risk of suicide was associated with those residents of Denmark who sought medical attention for traumatic brain injury (TBI) compared with the general population without TBI in a study that used data from Danish national registers.
More Traumatic Brain Injury News and Traumatic Brain Injury Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at