Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Traumatic brain injury a common and life-altering experience
July 11, 2008

One hard fall is all it takes. One punch. One smashup. One bolt out of the blue - a stroke, a case of meningitis.
The official name for what results is “traumatic brain injury,” but that little label barely touches on what it means to have to live with one. Life will never be the same for those whose brains sustain a severe injury. People sometimes feel so dramatically altered that they come to consider the date of their injury as their new birthday.
For Victoria man Des Christie, the injury was from a car accident at the age of 14. For the other 10,000 to 14,000 British Columbians who incur a traumatic brain injury in any given year, it might be a workplace accident, fall around the home, sports injury, medical problem, or any number of weird and unpredictable twists of fate.
“In this organization alone, we’ve got a staff member, my younger brother, another staff member’s daughter and another staff member’s husband - all of them with an acquired brain injury,” says Cridge Centre CEO Shelley Morris. “It’s much more common than people realize.”
The Cridge - more commonly known for its work with children and seniors - operates the region’s sole group home for people with traumatic brain injury. It’s for men only, but then again, men are twice as likely to experience a brain injury. The most common cause is a car accident, and the most common victim is a young man between the age of 19 and 25 injured while taking part in a risky activity.
McDonald House provides housing for 10 men. Christie has been living there for 14 years, but first had to put in a hard and trouble-ridden 22 years trying to make it on his own before finding a place that understood his challenges. Geoff Sing, the Cridge’s manager of brain-injury services and a brain-injury survivor himself, figures he could easily fill “three more McDonald Houses” if the resources were there.
One of the many little cruelties of brain injury is that it’s frequently invisible. The person looks unchanged to outward appearances, but no longer acts the same. They might not be able to hold their emotions in check. They’ll have memory problems. They tire much more easily. They may have suffered a permanent loss of motor control and brain function, and are unable to keep work or sustain a happy family life.
“The divorce rates after a brain injury are 85 per cent,” notes Sing.
Anecdotally, traumatic brain injury is presumed to be a major contributor to problems on Victoria’s streets. For some, the brain injury came first and resulted in a fall to the streets. For others, the street came first and the brain injury followed. Beatings, accidents and drug-induced disasters are daily possibilities for many of those on the streets, and injury rates overall are high.
The Cridge Centre wants to get a survey off the ground in the next few months to ascertain the level of brain injury on the street in a more formal fashion, in hopes of making a case for more resources.
“If we can get some specific numbers in the homeless community, my hope is that it will arm us - and the Vancouver Island Health Authority - with what we need to put more money into this,” says Morris. “I think it would be staggering to see the stats on this.”
As with any chronic and complex health condition, what’s needed for those with traumatic brain injury is a continuum of services. People typically start out in an acute-care hospital after their injury, then transfer to a rehabilitative facility. But what happens after that - or along the way - varies wildly. Without advocacy and support, life gets dicey quickly for those with brain injuries, and problems pile up fast.
Real work for real wages figures prominently in maintaining quality of life for those with a brain injury, says Morris. For the past two years, the Cridge has partnered with Camosun College to provide work training and on-the-job support for 36 people; Thrifty Foods, Carmanah Technologies and Rogers Chocolates are among the employers hiring from the program.
It’s not about lowering standards to suit people with brain injuries, stresses Sing, but rather about building flexibility and training into the work. Christie hadn’t worked for years before landing a job at Carmanah through the program, and is delighted with the boost to his disability income and his self-esteem: “I feel happier when I’m working. Otherwise, I just feel useless.”
Like the saying goes, it’s not exactly rocket science. “We want to grow residential housing and a job for people,” says Morris. “Can it get any more basic than that?”

2 comments: said...

Thanks for helping to bring attention to this issue, it's true that TBI often goes under the radar and isn't taken seriously until it's too late. We run a TBI website and blog, please stop by and check us out! said...
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