Monday, 27 Sep 2021

Half of homeless people have experienced traumatic brain injury: study

Roughly half of people who are homeless or in unstable housing have experienced a traumatic brain injury in their lifetime, a new study has found, with potentially severe consequences for their mental and physical health.

The study, by a group of B.C. researchers, analyzed previous research on the subject from six high-income countries including Canada, and was published Monday in the journal Lancet Public Health.

Not only did the researchers find that around half of homeless people had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in their lifetime, they also found that one quarter had experienced a moderate or severe injury — defined as being unconscious for at least 30 minutes or a visible injury on an MRI scan with lingering disability.

By comparison, only around 22 per cent of the general population has ever experienced TBI, and only three per cent have experienced a moderate or severe brain injury.

“What we found with this study is a strikingly high burden of TBI in this population,” said lead study author Jacob Stubbs, a PhD candidate in the UBC psychiatry department who works with the BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services Institute.

“TBI is broadly associated with poor health and functioning in this vulnerable population.”

Traumatic brain injury is linked to a host of problems, the researchers found, including poorer reported mental health, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and even involvement with the criminal justice system.

When a person experiences brain injury, their brain essentially bounces around in their skull, said Nathan Churchill, a scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, causing damage to the brain tissue with a “cascade” of effects.

Issues with blood flow and swelling can lead to further damage, Churchill explained. With less severe injuries, damage can still occur at a microscopic level.

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