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Urgent Call for Change: Advocates Demand Recognition of Traumatic Brain Injury as a Chronic Condition in Canada

In the shadow of Canada’s vibrant cities and diverse communities lies a silent epidemic that has long been overlooked: the pervasive impact of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). It’s a condition that does not discriminate. TBI is the leading cause of death in children and adults under forty, affecting individuals across all ages and walks of life, yet it’s often hidden in plain sight.

The recent urgent appeal by Brain Injury Canada and the Canadian Traumatic Brain Injury Research Consortium (CTRC) to classify serious TBI as a chronic condition marks a fundamental moment in the fight for recognition, support, and comprehensive care for those affected.

The statistics are stark and compelling: more than half of Canada’s homeless population has reported a history of TBI, and individuals with TBI are 2.5 times more likely to face incarceration. Indigenous Canadians and women suffering from intimate partner violence are disproportionately impacted, pointing to deeper societal issues that aggravate the challenges faced by TBI survivors.

The effects of TBI are far-reaching, with survivors experiencing a significant increase in psychological distress, a higher likelihood of substance abuse, and a drastic drop in employment rates post-injury.

Barb Butler’s story is a glaring illustration of the lifelong battle faced by TBI survivors. At 39, her life changed forever when her car was broadsided by an 18-wheeler truck, leaving her with severe TBI. Now sixty-eight, Butler’s persistence through ongoing symptoms highlights the ongoing nature of her struggle. “My severe brain injury just didn’t happen to me. It happened to my whole family. My husband suddenly didn’t have his wife, and our children didn’t have their mother. The injury never goes away, and you are never the same person you once were,” she reflected.

Michelle McDonald, CEO of Brain Injury Canada, is among many leading advocates who call for the Government of Canada to recognize TBI as a chronic condition.

“By classifying TBI as a chronic condition, Canada has the opportunity to lead the way in ensuring TBI survivors receive the continuous care, support, and rehabilitation services they need over a lifetime,” McDonald said. “This call to action demands our attention, compassion, and commitment to making a difference to the 165,000 Canadians who experience a serious TBI every year.”

Dr. Jamie Hutchison and Dr. Alexis Turgeon, Co-Chairs of the CTRC, stressed the importance of acknowledging TBI as a lifelong condition to advance treatment and research. ” By classifying TBI as a chronic condition, clinical scientists can examine all aspects of both the acute phase of the brain injury and the long-term consequences. Our goal is to understand why survivors experience different levels of recovery and how we can work more closely with patients, families, and populations at risk to improve the quality of their lives.”

The push for TBI to be classified alongside chronic conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s is a paradigm shift in the way TBI is viewed and treated. The Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System already provides a framework for gathering data and ensuring comprehensive care for other chronic conditions. Extending this framework to include TBI could transform the landscape of care and support for survivors, providing them with the resources they need to navigate the daily challenges they face.

Read the paper Traumatic Brain Injury: A Lifelong Condition by Brain Injury Canada and the Canadian Traumatic Brain Injury Research Consortium.  Key Findings:

  • Over half of Canada’s homeless (53%) report a history of TBI.
  • TBI sufferers are 2.5 times more likely to be incarcerated.
  • Indigenous Canadians face higher TBI rates linked to socio-economic factors.
  • Sixty percent of Canadian women experiencing intimate partner violence have had a TBI.
  • Ontario survey: TBI in school-aged youths linked to 52% more psychological distress, a tripled suicide attempt rate, and a 145% rise in anxiety/depression medication use.
  • Twenty percent of TBI survivors develop new substance use problems.
  • Post-TBI employment drops from 75% to 13%.
  • New findings show that moderate to severe TBI leads to lasting cognitive decline from continuous neuroinflammation and brain cell death.

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