When a sports star suffers a concussion, it makes the news, there’s an outpouring of sympathy and he or she immediately gets the best care and treatment possible.
When a woman is beaten by her partner, a resulting brain injury usually goes unreported and untreated.
A new research project at UBC Okanagan hopes to change that. It’s called the Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury (SOAR) project.
On Friday, representatives from the university, groups that support women and the media gathered at UBCO for a news conference announcing $1 million in federal funding for SOAR.
“I’ve been doing sports concussion research here,” said Paul van Donkelaar, a professor at the university’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences.
“It’s time we also understand the brain injuries women get caused by abuse by their intimate partner.”
Van Donkelaar quoted some startling statistics.
“For every NHL player that gets a concussion, 7,000 Canadian women suffer a concussion caused by their intimate partner. That translates to 250,000 cases every year.”
The university’s research will be three-pronged.
First, researchers want to understand more about the type of brain injury caused by domestic violence.
Often, athletes fully recover from a concussion in a week to 10 days with rest, monitoring and light exercise.
But the figures probably aren’t as good for abused women. Because the violence is recurring, they don’t get proper rest or seek medical help.
In addition, victims of domestic abuse can also suffer emotional distress, post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. That’s on top of the chronic headaches, problems concentrating, erratic behaviour and dizziness that can accompany a brain injury.
Second, the research project will monitor women referred by the Kelowna Women’s Shelter, Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre, Elizabeth Fry Society and other agencies that help women hurt by domestic violence.
Van Donkelaar estimates that could be up to 200 women over the next five years.
Third, SOAR will refer women for treatment to specialized programs with Interior Health and Brain Trust Canada.
SOAR can also help teach women coping skills and provide cognitive training to help them recover as much as possible from a concussion and brain injury.
“One in three women will suffer violence at the hands of a male partner,” said Kelowna Women’s Shelter executive director Karen Mason. “Most blows are to the head, face and neck or strangulation.
“We need this type of research to help women affected by abuse by an intimate partner.”