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Traumatic brain injury found in nearly half of homeless men

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Nearly half of the homeless men who were the subjects of a research study by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada have experienced at least one traumatic brain injury in their lifetime, and for 87 percent of that group, the brain injuries occurred before the men lost their homes. The study was published on April 25, 2014 in the journal “CMAJ Open.”

The main causes of brain injuries are assault (60 percent), motor vehicle collisions and falls (42 percent), and sports and recreation (44 percent). The findings were based on data on 111 homeless men ages 27 to 82 years old who were staying in a downtown Toronto shelter.

Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic, a clinical researcher in the hospital’s Neuroscience Research Program and lead author of the study, says that it is important for clinicians and healthcare providers to be aware of past brain injuries. TBIs are linked to seizures, mental health issues, substance abuse, and 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.”

Study findings:

  • 45 percent of the men experienced a traumatic brain injury
  • 70 percent of the men with TBI had been injured during childhood or adolescence
  • 87 percent of the men with TBI were injured before becoming homeless
  • Falls caused by drug or alcohol blackouts were the most common cause of brain injury in men under age 40
  • Assault was the most common cause of TBI in men over age 40

“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.