Brain injuries can have lifelong, lasting effects on almost every sphere of life. They can result in impairments of neurological, cognitive and physical functions leading to activity restrictions and lack of participation in all aspects of society.

Acquired brain injuries currently impact about 1.5 million Canadians, and every year another 160,000 people experience an acquired brain injury (ABI).[i] These rates continue to rise as more Canadians are experiencing and reporting incidents of ABI.

The Brain Injury Association of Windsor & Essex County, in collaboration with Brain Changes Initiative, Beyond Disability Network, and Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare presented a free 6-part, virtual speaker series for front-line health care professionals, as well as those affected by a body or brain injury.

The series brought together experts in the fields of physical and cognitive rehabilitation, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness and lived experience to present evidence-based strategies and practical approaches to support holistic brain and body health.

Physical Activity & Brain Health

Kyle Whaley, the executive director as well as a practicing clinician at Propel Physiotherapy. His vision is to build the Greater Toronto Area’s leading treatment centre for catastrophic neurological injuries and complex orthopedic injuries.

Kyle Whaley has a reputation for achieving great results for clients with complex injuries and behavioral challenges caused by motor vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, and sports injuries. He has a special knack for simplifying an assessment and attaining a diagnosis for clients who have exhausted all other avenues and almost lost hope.

Kyle’s presentation focuses on people with brain injury who are unable to fully participate in physical activity or exercises secondary to mobility challenges, fatigue and low mood. He discusses:

  • The basics of heart rate thresholds, adapting/modifying strength and conditioning sessions.
  • The importance of consistency, discipline and accountability
  • Finding appropriate community programs
  • The importance of small gains over time

*TIP: Find appropriate community programs including walking programs, group classes, and outdoor activities and programs. These local resources will help you reach those small gains over time.

Watch Kyle’s lecture on physical exercise here:

Cognitive Exercise

Heather Condello is passionate about providing education on innovative and effective treatment for brain, spine and mental health conditions and building awareness of the important role of occupational therapy in this regard. This passion initially led to founding Complex Injury Rehab as a community-based treatment provider in 2008 and then to launching of the Complex Injury Rehab Brain, Spine and Mental Health Clinic in Pickering.

Heather has over sixteen years’ experience as an occupational therapist practicing with both adult and paediatric populations, working with individuals with a variety of neurological conditions, burns, amputations, complex orthopaedics conditions, chronic pain and various mental health challenges.

Heather’s presentation focuses on people having difficulty returning to activities they enjoy because of difficulties with thinking.

Here are some useful solutions to help people who have been injured get back to doing to things they love:

  • Participate in a variety of activities that engage different aspects of thinking
  • Utilize compensatory strategies
  • Pace your activities to limit symptom flare-up
  • Gradually build back your ability to engage in components of desired activities bit by bit

Watch Heather’s lecture on cognitive exercise here:

Nutrition for Brain Health

Dr. Mary Sco is a “double-doctor” who is devoted to nutrition and disease prevention. Mary completed a BSc, PhD (in Nutritional Sciences) and MD at the University of Toronto. She is currently completing her residency in family medicine at Women’s College Hospital. Mary is a former Vanier Scholar whose published research has helped influence public policy at City Hall and Queen’s Park. In addition, Mary is an avid science communicator who is committed to spreading the word about the importance of eating-well to live optimally.

Dr. Sco’s presentation focuses on figuring out what to eat to support brain health. She recommends you start by following the principle of balance outlined in Canada’s Food Guide.

Hear what other tips and strategies Dr. Mary Sco provides in her lecture on nutrition for brain health:

Sleep Issues from Brain & Body Trauma

Dr. Celeste Thirlwell is a sleep medicine specialist and psychiatrist with a background in neurosurgery and neuroscience research. She completed her medical training at McMaster University. She is the founder and director of the Sleep Wake Awareness Program (SWAP), which provides comprehensive, multimodal treatment for sleep/wake health issues.

Dr. Thirlwell has worked extensively with Canadian veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI), insomnia, PTSD, and chronic fatigue. She continues to search for innovative neuroscience-based strategies to optimize the care of her patients and is incorporating innovative approaches into her practice.

Her presentation focuses on solutions for sleep issues caused by brain and body trauma. She discusses:

  • The dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) with increased sympathetic nervous system (SNS) tone “Fight, Flight & Hide Freeze”
  • Maladaptive trauma circuit patterns of the brain and body occur, resulting in input/output mismatch
  • Poor sleep causes activation of inflammation in the body and dysregulation of hormones, cognitive issues, sensory processing issues, and increased pain.
  • Healing the brain and body with restorative sleep

*TIPS: What you can do to solve your sleep issues

  • Correct your input/output mismatch and maladaptive trauma circuit patterns
  • Rebalance your ANS by increasing your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) tone “Maintain, Rest, & Digest”
  • Sleep hygiene is important

Resources:

  • Attend a sleep clinic for sleep study
  • Functional neurology treatment will re-stabilize the ANS to correct input/output mismatch and maladaptive trauma circuit patterns
  • Photobiomodulation to stabilize ANS, decrease inflammation, and reduce pain
  • Engaging in PNS tone exercises: gentle graded exercise, yoga, tai chi, swimming, meditation

Watch Dr. Thirlwell’s lecture on sleep solutions here:

Managing Mood with Mindfulness Meditation

Dr. Diana Velikonja completed her graduate studies in psychology, neuroscience specialization at the University of Waterloo. She completed her residency and post-doctoral training at Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals. Her areas of practice include neuropsychology, rehabilitation psychology and clinical psychology across the lifespan.

She has worked since 1997 in a clinical and research capacity at the acquired brain injury program at Hamilton Health Sciences. Currently, she is working in the integrated adult concussion clinic at Hamilton Health Sciences treating acute concussion patients.

Dr. Velikonja also sits on the advisory board for the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation (ONF), acquired brain injury section which has been actively involved in the development of guidelines for moderate to severe brain injury as well as for concussion management.  She is also the Chair for the ONF concussion advisory board setting up guidelines for concussion clinics.

Dr. Velikonja’s presentation focuses on how we can manage mood and emotions by influencing neural plasticity through mindfulness meditation.

The key points that will be explored in Dr. Diana Velikonja’s lecture are:

  • The relationship between mood and emotion from a neuronal perspective and how disorders of mood arise
  • Management of mood and prevention of disorders through examination of resilience from a biological perspective
  • Developing resilience through behavioural approaches
  • Mindfulness-related research and our current understanding of its influence on neural plasticity

Listen to Dr. Diana Velikonja explore the mood management through mindfulness:

Remarkable Story of a Brain Injury Survivor

In 2013, medical student Matthew Galati, suffered a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in a motor vehicle accident. Refusing to accept ill fate, he researched how best to heal and created his own recovery protocol based on revolutionary new science around a brain supporting lifestyle. Against all odds, he recovered fully to complete his medical training and has come full circle as a physician.

After finishing his residency training in family medicine in 2018, Dr. Galati completed a fellowship in environmental medicine which has a strong focus on functional/integrative medicine. In 2019, Dr. Galati started his own family medicine practice with the East GTA Family Health Team. He is also a hospitalist at Runnymede Healthcare rehabilitation hospital. In addition to working as a physician, Dr. Galati founded the not-for-profit organization, Brain Changes Initiative in 2019.

Dr. Matthew Galati shares his incredible TBI recovery journey, what he’s learned through his experience and how he’s now helping other TBI survivors:

What does it mean to be brain healthy?

  • Adopting a lifestyle that supports neuronal growth & connectivity
  • Reducing habits and exposures that are detrimental to the brain

Living a brain healthy lifestyle and the road to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) recovery:

  • Positive predictors for TBI recovery
  • Navigation journey of a patient who is recovering from TBI
  • Neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change)
  • Lifestyle for brain health
  • Remarkable recoveries from TBI are possible

Hear more about Dr. Galati’s story and key points here:

Brain Injury Rehabilitation

It is important to consider that the effects of brain injury are unique to each client and must be considered in treatment approach. Survivors of a traumatic brain injury can present with a variety of deficits varying from physical impairments to cognitive challenges. A team of interdisciplinary health professionals can target the multifaceted aspects of rehabilitation and help people living with brain injuries achieve their personal goals and to maximize recovery.

Written by

Propel Physiotherapy
Propel PhysiotherapyIntegrated Healthcare Team
A special thank to our summer intern Laura Sawula from the University of Toronto’s Physical Therapy program for helping us put together this blog post as part of her placement. Laura is on instagram as @lsawula.

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