On the Intersection of Traumatic Brain Injury and Intimate Partner Violence

Chercheur (es) Principal (aux) VanDonkelaar, Paul

On the Intersection of Traumatic Brain Injury and Intimate Partner Violence

Note: la description de ce programme de recherche est en anglais seulement.


Each year in Canada approximately 276,000 women become victims of intimate partner violence (IPV). Quite often the violence targets the head, is repeated over months to years, and thereby leads to chronic symptoms which are consistent with TBI. Despite this context, community organizations which provide refuge for survivors of IPV typically do not screen for TBI or provide support and services which take TBI into account. Thus, our group has recently undertaken a project designed to better understand the intersection of TBI and IPV. In addition, using an integrated knowledge translation (iKT) approach, we are identifying current gaps in knowledge and awareness of TBI in IPV in front-line staff and hope to use this information to inform the initial development of TBI-informed tools and resources so that community organizations working in this sector can better serve their clients.


The long-term objective of this project is to characterize TBI in survivors of IPV and use an iKT approach to disseminate this information to community organizations who serve survivors of IPV. We hypothesize that survivors of IPV who report more substantial symptoms consistent with TBI will display greater deficits in brain function than survivors of IPV who report more mild symptoms consistent with TBI. Furthermore, we hypothesize that front-line staff will report relatively little to no knowledge of TBI in the context of IPV, but recognize the need for training and tools to help them identify and appropriately support clients with TBI.


This project entails a correlational design with participants who have experienced at least one episode of IPV.  Participants will complete the SCAT5, the Brain Injury Severity Assessment (BISA), and questionnaires assessing PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. The iKT component will use surveys and interviews of front-line staff to determine their knowledge and awareness of TBI in IPV.


Preliminary results (N=13) for the IPV participants demonstrate that those participants with higher BISA scores also had greater total symptoms and symptom severity on the SCAT5 than those with lower BISA scores. In addition, for the concentration and balance domains the scores of the participants were significantly worse than acutely concussed athletes. Preliminary results (N=15) for the front-line staff indicate they see the benefits of screening clients for TBI but feel they currently lack the knowledge and resources necessary to do so.


Objectively characterizing the intersection of TBI and IPV and better understanding the barriers and facilitators to providing TBI-informed supports and services at community organizations serving this vulnerable population will have a significant impact on the longterm health of IPV survivors.


Data collection has been underway since June 2017. We expect initial manuscripts to be submitted by summer 2018. iKT activities commenced in the Fall 2017 and are ongoing. We are planning dissemination at upcoming provincial and national conferences targeting community organizations working in this sector. Grant applications have been submitted to CIHR and SSHRC for ongoing project support.