Study finds Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents at high risk of brain damage


Researchers from two major Vancouver universities hope that new research into the health outcomes of the city’s most vulnerable residents will lead to improved awareness, treatment and prevention of brain injuries.

After following 326 people living in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver’s poorest neighborhood, for a year, researchers from SFU and UBC found that precarious residents were more likely to suffer serious brain damage from a fall. , aggression or other factors than previously thought. .

Head trauma (TBI) can range from a mild concussion to a severe head injury caused by a blow or other injury to the head or neck. Head injuries can cause bruising, swelling or tearing of brain tissue and lead to chronic impairment.

Brain Injury Canada says approximately 18,000 people in the country are hospitalized each year due to TBI, while 2% of the population lives with a brain injury.

“Highest risk”

In monthly screenings, the BC researchers said 175 traumatic brain injury events were reported by 100 of the 326 Downtown Eastside participants in their study.

Just over 60% of participants who reported a head injury had one event, while nearly 40% reported two or more injuries.

The study indicates that, given mild concussions that may go unreported, head injuries among Downtown Eastside residents may even be higher.

“We know that these people are at higher risk of getting or sustaining brain injury and we also know that they have more comorbidity [more than one medical condition] factors that make them less able to recover from injury or compensate for brain damage that would occur in an otherwise healthy brain,” said study lead author Tiffany O’Connor, PhD. in psychology from Simon Fraser University.

British Columbia researchers said 175 head trauma events were reported by 100 of the 326 Downtown Eastside participants in their study. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The study, Head trauma in people living in precarious housing: incidence and riskswas recently published in the open access public health journal The Lancet.

The TBI rates discovered by O’Connor’s team are based on similar research from SFU and UBC in 2019which showed that half of all homeless people may have experienced a TBI in their lifetime.

O’Connor says there is a lack of research on how traumatic brain injury contributes to negative health outcomes for Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents compared to what is known about traumatic brain injury experienced by athletes or soldiers.

A recent UBC study showed that people living in the Downtown Eastside lived an average of 9.5 years less than people living in affluent communities such as West Point Grey.

The SFU study indicated that falls accounted for 45% of head injuries, followed by assaults at 25%. Nearly 10% of reported head injuries occurred during drug overdose, while acute poisoning was reported in 45% of injuries.

“In terms of substance dependencies, participants with opioid addiction were more likely to experience incident TBI than those without,” the report states.

Paramedics and first responders perform chest compressions on a person in a Downtown Eastside alley in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, May 11, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

O’Connor hopes the research will help develop better awareness and health interventions to prevent and treat traumatic brain injury in the future. Research has shown that having a TBI increases the likelihood of having more.

“Brain damage has consequences no matter where it happens and that happens to be an environment where the consequences can be even more severe,” O’Connor said.

She wants people precariously housed in the DTES to know how to spot the symptoms of TBI and when to seek medical care. She also wants practitioners and service providers to more often screen for injuries, including those that are minor.

“Failures lead to bad decisions”

The British Columbia Brain Injury Association said it is also advocating for early interventions such as appropriate housing and training for service providers from the provincial Department of Mental Health and Addictions.

“These impairments lead to bad decisions, which lead to saying, not paying your rent and being evicted and being forced to be homeless and vulnerable,” Geoff Sing said.

The department said it recently provided a total of 103 homes in Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford for those with complex health and mental health issues, some of which are the result of brain injury.


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