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Brain injury conference brings together researchers, survivors and professionals

Supported by 1U4U initiative, issues in treating and supporting traumatic brain injury survivors were discussed at the conference.

Each day, on average, 66 Utahns experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI). For survivors and their families, the road to recovery can be long and uncertain. Essential to positive outcomes are professionals who provide services, and researchers who help develop interventions and study their effects.

Each year the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah brings together professionals along with survivors and their families to share information and learn from each other.  This year was no exception thanks to the University of Utah’s 1U4U Initiative which sponsors interdisciplinary collaborations across campus that includes both academic and health sciences. Faculty in the School of Medicine, College of Education and College of Social and Behavioral Sciences came together to develop an agenda for the 2020 Annual Brain Injury Alliance of Utah Family & Professionals Conference. Support was also provided from critical partners in the state, including Intermountain Health Care, the Utah Department of Health Violence and Injury Prevention Program, the Utah State Board of Education and colleagues throughout the country.

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Reed said the brain injury conference is an ideal example of the 1U4U initiative. “These projects are meant to bridge the literal and figurative divides on our campus in order to develop new knowledge and engage our community in real solutions,” Reed said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated many research projects across the country,” he added. “But this 1U4U team still was able to collaborate and innovate under unusual circumstances—a global pandemic—to convene a regional gathering on a complex and multi-faceted issue. Their work will bear results for years to come.”

A total of 562 individuals registered for the Oct. 1-2 online conference. Families and survivors, as well as students and trainees, comprised a large percentage of attendees. Members of various professional groups attended that included first responders, teachers, medical and mental health professionals, speech and language therapists, occupational and physical therapists, rehabilitation counselors, administrators and more. Attendees who logged in from around the Intermountain West included those from Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana, states where brain injuries are a significant health problem, but no such conference is offered.

Topics at the meeting included brain injury from intimate partner violence and sports-related events, post-traumatic headaches and even the roles of gut microbiomes, medical cannabis and yoga on injury recovery. But one notable outcome from the meeting concerned advocacy for a “return-to-learn” law in Utah. Such laws provide guidelines and accommodations to help students who are survivors of traumatic brain injury to return to the classroom as quickly and as comfortably as possible.

The workshop on return-to-learn and brain injury culminated in call-to-action suggestions for approaches to integrate and improve support and interventions in schools throughout Utah, said Candace Floyd, associate professor in the Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a conference organizer.

Follow up work has already begun, including expanding school TBI teams throughout the state and making TBI training available to all educators in Utah. Outstanding educational materials have already been developed by the University of Oregon’s Center for Brain Injury Research and Training, said Elaine Clark, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology. Funding, she adds, can make these materials available in Utah.

Organizers included Jeremy Davis, Candace Floyd, Summer Rolin and Elisabeth Wilde from the School of Medicine, Elaine Clark from the College of Education and Yana Suchy from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Learn more about the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah here.

View the conference schedule here.