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‘Way past due’: UBC Okanagan helps create concussion guide for survivors of domestic abuse

A researcher from UBCO was on the team of advocates and clinicians that developed the free resource

Abuse and intimate partner violence can cause long-lasting physical injuries, that are not always visible and can be overlooked.

Researchers, advocates and physicians from across North America came together to create a guide that will aid in the detection and care of brain injuries caused by domestic violence.

Paul van Donkelaar, Ph.D., a professor with the faculty of health and social development at the University of B.C.’s Okanagan campus, helped to create the first-of-it’s-kind free resource to be used by medical professionals.

He worked alongside a team of 11 clinicians, researchers and persons with lived experience to develop the guide, that will hopefully improve health outcomes for survivors of abuse.

Globally, one in three women will experience violence at the hands of a partner. Statistics Canada estimates that nationally, the rate of domestic abuse is closer to 44 per cent.

Of those impacted by violence, approximately 92 per-cent of survivors may also experience one or more brain injuries from blows to the face, head and neck, and through strangulation.

Van Donkelaar explained that concussions, which can be caused by intimate partner violence, can cause a wide spectrum of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms and more severe forms of brain injury can cause seizures or movement, visual or language disabilities.

Unfortunately, it can be challenging to treat brain injuries appropriately given the unique needs and variety of presentations of survivors.

However, without appropriate care survivors of abuse are at increased risk of developing long-lasting concussion-related injuries, mental illness and substance use disorders.

Despite the widespread and urgent issue, knowledge and awareness of intimate partner violence and the specific injuries that it can cause and how it can be hidden remains low among some frontline healthcare professionals.

Before the resource was created, there were no standardized clinical practice guidelines available in Canada that outline a comprehensive approach to the medical assessment and management of those presenting with brain injuries as a result of domestic abuse.

The resource details how to conduct a medical assessment, manage and arrange follow-up that includes multi-disciplinary referral considerations while honouring the unique needs of the patient population.

“We know failure to receive appropriate medical care following acute brain injury from intimate partner violence can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment of injuries,” said van Donkelaar.

The goal of the guide is to act as a starting point that will be refined and reworked over time as new research becomes available.

To access the free Intimate Partner Violence Traumatic Brain Injury Medical Provider Resource, and the full list of expert contributors visit


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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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