Half of all homeless people may have suffered a traumatic brain injury at some point in their life, according to new research – which experts say could be either a consequence or even the cause of their homelessness.
Traumatic brain injury is sudden damage caused by a blow or jolt to the head, which can be caused by a motor accident, a fall or an assault. Sometimes it can cause long-term damage to the brain, leading to neurological and psychiatric disorders.
A large study compiling research results from six high-income countries – Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US – found that 53% of homeless people had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This, estimate the authors, could be 2.3 to four times the rate for the population as a whole.
In a quarter of homeless people, the injury was moderate to severe, which would be 10 times that of the general population, says the research published in the Lancet Public Health journal.
An unanswered question, say experts, is whether the brain injury causes the homelessness or if it is the other way round. “The relationship between homelessness and TBI could function both ways – TBI could increase the risk of homelessness, and homelessness could increase the risk of TBI,” said Jehannine Austin from the British Columbia mental health and substance use services research institute in Canada, where the study was carried out.
“We need a better understanding of this relationship to address the issue, and to improve outcomes in the homeless and marginally housed population.”
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Sarah Boseley