TORONTO, March 21, 2014—Homeless and vulnerably housed people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury at some point in their life are more likely to visit an Emergency Department, be arrested or incarcerated, or be victims of physical assault, new research has found.
"Given the high costs of Emergency Department visits and the burden of crime on society, these findings have important public health and criminal justice implications," the researchers from St. Michael's Hospital wrote today in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.
Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, are about seven times more common among homeless people than the general population. Traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, are associated with many other health problems such as seizures, mental health problems, alcohol and drug misuse and poorer overall physical and mental health. Homeless people are also known to be frequent users of health care facilities, especially emergency departments.
Dr. Stephen Hwang of the hospital's Centre for Research on Inner City Health said this is one of the first studies of its kind to investigate health care use among homeless and vulnerably housed populations with a history of TBI--and one of the largest such studies.
The findings come from an ongoing study of changes in the health and housing status of 1,200 homeless and vulnerably housed single adults in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa. The study, known as the Health and Housing in Transition (HHiT) study, has been following participants for up to four years.
Of the study participants, 61 per cent said they had suffered a TBI in their lifetime (69 per cent in Vancouver, 64 per cent in Ottawa and 50 per cent in Toronto).
The study found that homeless people with a history of TBI were:
"Screening homeless and vulnerably housed people for TBI and helping them to better manage behaviors after brain injuries could help improve outcomes and potentially reduce the use of costly health care and legal services," said Matthew To, the lead author of the paper and a research student at St. Michael's Hospital.
The HHiT study is conducted by the Research Alliance for Canadian Homelessness, Housing, and Health (REACH3), which includes some of Canada's leading academic researchers and community organizations with expertise on homelessness. The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
About St. Michael's Hospital
St. Michael's Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 23 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the hospital's recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Center, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.
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