Vik Kirsch, Guelph Mercury: People with acquired brain injuries, typically from car crashes, strokes and falls, experience improvements coping with life’s challenges through a specific type of meditation, a new study at the St. Joseph’s Health Centre suggests.
“It was an amazing thing to be part of,” clinical resource worker Paula Rogers said Wednesday, as she and community support services director Audrey Devitt and senior research associate Janine Maitland outlined the two-year study’s results to staff.
In interviews afterward, the three noted patients with brain injuries, though no two are alike, face a variety of challenges from brain damage. In addition to physical ailments, they may be overwhelmed by day-to-day living, struggle with their emotions, suffer memory damage and must cope with a loss of who they are as they go through personality changes.
Researchers developed a 10-week program of what they termed “mindfulness meditation.” It taught participant volunteers how to gain insight into their daily lives as they live “in the moment” through mental coping exercises. Mental faculties, as a result, are sharpened.
This leads in part to stress reduction, relaxation, self-awareness, problem-solving and self-monitoring that elevates the quality of life.
Devitt said participants became happier, calmer and more content with their lives because of the course, though which they saw gradual improvement. They gained better insight into themselves and became more confident. People who had been frustrated with their limitations tended to gain “a general sense of individual acceptance,” Devitt noted.
For the study, 47 adult survivors of injuries participated, with proponents now intending to publish their results and take further steps. “We hope in future to offer this as an outreach program,” Devitt said.
The $12,000 cost of the study came primarily from the centre’s foundation and endowment funds.
To date, Maitland said, there’s little research in the scientific literature on acquired brain injuries available, so it’s an open field ripe for further study. “There’s very little done.” That means any new insight is valuable.
As to specific physical results, Maitland said participants reported a reduction in ongoing pain from brain injuries after learning the new meditation techniques.
Among psychological benefits, participants of the St. Joe’s study reported a significant improvement in mood (less depression) and a reduction in stress, Maitland said. While there was no apparent boost in sense of attention among individuals, self-esteem improved in women, though not men.
For both sexes, a sense of well-being grew stronger.
“Mindfulness (meditating) does have value,” she concluded.
The course required some “homework,” as participants practised techniques, which Rogers said took effort for some to get used to. But this became easier over time, she added.
With practise, some found they didn’t require as much pain medication. “That was a positive sign for us,” Rogers said.
They reported having more energy, better sleep, having an easier time breathing and more general relaxation. They were also better able to control their tempers, anxiety and resentment levels toward others. That led to improved relations, Rogers reported.
St. Joe’s operates the region’s only adult day program teaching brain injury survivors life skills and coping strategies. ABI patients this month moved into a new addition on site for them, part of a larger, $19-million expansion of the Westmount Road long-term, chronic and complex continuing care facility.