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Study finds almost half of homeless men had traumatic brain injury


April 25, 2014
Brain & Behavior, Health

Almost half of all homeless men who took part in a study by St. Michael’s Hospital had suffered at least one traumatic brain injury in their life and 87 per cent of those injuries occurred before the men lost their homes.

While assaults were a major cause of those traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, (60 per cent) many were caused by potentially non-violent mechanisms such as sports and recreation (44 per cent) and motor vehicle collisions and falls (42 per cent).

The study, led by Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic, a clinical researcher in the hospital’s Neuroscience Research Program, was published today in the journal CMAJ Open.

Dr. Topolovec-Vranic said it’s important for health care providers and others who work with homeless people to be aware of any history of TBI because of the links between such injuries and mental health issues, substance abuse, seizures and general poorer physical health.

The fact that so many homeless men suffered a TBI before losing their home suggests such injuries could be a risk factor for becoming homeless, she said. That makes it even more important to monitor young people who suffer TBIs such as concussions for health and behavioural changes, she said.

Dr. Topolovec-Vranic looked at data on 111 homeless men aged 27 to 81 years old who were recruited from a downtown Toronto men’s shelter. She found that 45 per cent of these men had experienced a traumatic brain injury, and of these, 70 per cent were injured during childhood or teenage years and 87 per cent experienced an injury before becoming homeless.

In men under age 40, falls from drug/alcohol blackouts were the most common cause of traumatic brain injury while assault was the most common in men over 40 years old.

Recognition that a TBI sustained in childhood or early teenage years could predispose someone to homelessness may challenge some assumptions that homelessness is a conscious choice made by these individuals, or just the result of their addictions or mental illness, said Dr. Topolovec-Vranic.

This study received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation.

Separately, a recent study by Dr. Stephen Hwang of the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, found the number of people who are homeless or vulnerably housed and who have also suffered a TBI may be as high as 61 per cent—seven times higher than the general population.

Dr. Hwang’s study, published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, is one of the largest studies to date investigating TBI in homeless populations. The findings come from the Health and Housing in Transition Study, which tracks the health and housing status of homeless and vulnerably housed people in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.


11 Responses to Study finds almost half of homeless men had traumatic brain injury

  1. 14087775 (Nadine) April 30, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    This is a very interesting article and I am surprised that almost half of all homeless men suffered at least one brain injury, 87% of which occurred before they became homeless.

    This definitely indicates that there is a connection between brain injuries and homelessness. Even though brain injuries can be a cause of homelessness, in my opinion, it is definitely not the only factor that plays a role.

    I feel that homelessness can be caused by other factors such as poor education (which leads to limited job opportunities), being brought up in a dysfunctional home, , abuse, and low moral standards. Another important factor is bad choices that are made in life. For example it is a choice to get involved with drugs and alcohol. Drugs contain neurotoxins that damages the brain and nerves. Drug and alcohol abuse causes reckless behaviour, like fighting and car accidents, which can lead to brain injures.

    Very often people who are caught up in the world of drug and alcohol abuse are pushed away by family and society and end up either dead or homeless. Therefore, although complex, I believe that there is more involved than just TBI’s which leads to homelessness.

  2. u13106687 April 29, 2014 at 2:54 am #

    I strongly agree that half of men had traumatic brain injury because basically homeless people has mental illness,since they involve themselves into substance abuse issues and dangerous activities.The most challenging problem about homeless people is that it very difficult for them to get immediate recovery,because they do not afford housing.I think government should implement research on how to solve this problem,because homeless people need help and our support.

  3. AH Mkwanazi (u14092761) April 29, 2014 at 2:41 am #

    This in an intriguing article. Dr. Troolevec-Vranic’s research gives brief answers to questions so many people have regarding the behavior of homeless people, especially men. i strongly believe that another cause of such TBIs may have resulted from their stern childhoods (being terribly beaten up as a child) which may be one of the influences they leave home, trying to run away from such environments. I personally have had an experience with a close relative who went missing after he was involved in a car accident and damaged his brain. He was then found two years later in a homeless shelter that he had been since he left home. So, the point I am trying to make is that not all of them had bad childhood experiences but some traumatic experiences resulted from accidents.

  4. u14090742 (Simoné) April 28, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

    This article explains important information about homeless people. Since homeless people can be found all over the world, we need to know a bit more about them. This would help us to understand their circumstances better.

    I find it interesting that the most men under the age of 40 suffer from TBI’s as a result of drug abuse. This once again indicates the vulnerability of young people is much higher; explaining why anti-drug movements are mainly concentrated on the youth. This could be because of the extreme effect of peer pressure or the naivety of young people; not realising the lifelong consequences that drug abuse could have. By the time a young individual notices the negative effects that drug abuse has had on his life; he has alienated those who cared about him and could have offered him a safe home. Not only has his emotional support system deteriorated but his incapacitated state has led to him not being a suitable candidate for any institution to hire. In the end it makes sense for a young man that never received the necessary help to end up living on the streets.

    It is therefore important to educate teens about drugs before permanent damage is done to their health and life.

  5. u14111404 April 28, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    The fact that a high percentage of homeless men have had traumatic brain injuries is a huge surprise to me. I would have never linked TBIs to homelessness; this article is very insightful!
    I agree that one should not jump to the conclusion that every homeless man makes the conscious decision to be homeless. After a TBI one may easily lose their sound minds, as well as their ability to make logical decisions.
    However, if a homeless man has suffered a severe TBI, resulting in his inability to carry out any job effectively; how would he be helped?
    Would he live solely depending on the monetary generosity of others?
    14111404

  6. u14048192 April 28, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    I find this an interesting fact that 87% of homeless men have suffered from traumatic brain injuries and this before they left the home. The fact that 60% of these injuries were caused by “potentially” non-violent mechanisms such as sports and 44% was recreation and 42% was motor vehicle collisions and falls, does not surprise me that much. Men or I should say “boys” tend to be rough, reckless and care free, in a way stupid. We get a great deal of joy from contact sports, and never know when to stop as we are “hard-headed”. Although it is said “women are worse drivers”, men take more risks and tend to be the faster, less safety wise leading to motor vehicle collisions. I do not think that the society knows this fact, leading use to not know their(the homeless) reasons and discriminate against them. This study should be put out there and made know. the homeless need our help not our judgement.

  7. u14003563 April 28, 2014 at 1:13 am #

    It is easy to denounce homeless people as second class citizens, due to unstable mental health.According to new research it is proven that less than half of all homeless men suffer from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and among those that do, most injuries were sustained before the men lost their homes. One of the more surprisings discoveries was that homeless individuals overwhelmingly reported TBI’s in childhood, leading researchers to speculate on the causality of head injuries and future homelessness.

  8. pulledpork April 27, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    Didn’t take any time at all for the thread to become judgemental, did it? Sigh.

  9. Botsang 14168015 April 27, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    I find it interesting that some of the men had TBI caused by substance abuse before they even became homeless. This shows that people do not really care much about their health and do not try by all means to find solutions on hoe to recover. People should be aware of the consumption of drug/alcohol they take. This might reduce the number of homeless men found and not forgetting about all other traumatic brain injury experienced.

  10. Zahrah (u14002885) April 27, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    What I find especially interesting is that 87% of homeless men have experienced TBIs before becoming homeless. Also, that 60% of these TBIs where caused by violence and substance abuse. This leads me to believe that our choice of lifestyle could lead to life eventually choosing a style for us, that being homeless and vulnerable. This information should be an eye-opener for many to not take brain damage lightly as the brain is a fragile organ whose proper functioning is absolutely vital for one’s well being. This can be seen in that damage of the brain can affect one’s behavior and state of sanity to the point of loosing even their homes. These statistics also force us as people of the society to not judge and blame homeless men for their occasionally peculiar behavior as this could stem from past brain injury. They do not need judgment, they need help.

  11. u14247594 April 27, 2014 at 4:40 am #

    Many homeless people do whatever they can to make sure that they survive out there.I most certainly would agree with Dr. Topolovec-Vranic. In the process of them trying to survive they get involved in many dangerous fights,the fights that may leave them having fractured skull and they wont even consult to a doctor because they do not have finances to do so.And somehow when they have the symptoms of traumatic head injury,they think it is normal.Also a survey of how the research was conducted I think it should be included for those ignorant assumptions about the mental illnesses of the homeless people.

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