Traumatic Brain Injury and Homelessness

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W. Eric Pedersen

A recently published Canadian study reveals a frighteningly high correlation between homelessness and traumatic brain injury.  This study was funded by the St. Michael’s Hospital Head Injury Clinic in Toronto, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation.

This study involved screening 111 men, all of whom were residents of a homeless shelter in Toronto, for brain injury.  The results of the study were that:

  • 45 percent of the participants had a positive screening result for brain injury;
  • Of that 45 percent, 73 percent reported their first injury before adulthood; and
  • 87 percent reported a first head injury before the onset of homelessness.

The causes of injury were broken down as follows:

  • 66 percent reported sustaining at least one traumatic brain injury by assault;
  • 44 percent suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of sports or recreational activities;
  • 42 percent suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident; and
  • 42 percent suffered an injury as a result of a fall.

This was a relatively small study (111 participants), but the data appears to show a strong correlation between homelessness and traumatic brain injuries.  This data cannot be used to show causation (i.e., that 45% of the Toronto’s shelter population became homeless as a direct result of a head injury); indeed, the study’s authors indicate that a positive screening for a head injury correlates with what are presumably other social indicators of homelessness, including mental illness or parental history of substance abuse.  The study concludes that additional research is needed to study the “complex interactions among homelessness, traumatic brain injury, mental illness and substance use.”

This study, and further research in this field, may significantly change the way that homelessness is addressed in our society, and change the way we think about the social consequences of traumatic brain injury.  Our role as personal injury lawyers acting within the limited realms of our tort law and private insurance systems, is to assist injured parties in obtaining proper care and compensation – certainly studies like this one show us that the stakes are high for all involved.

Here is a link to the study, and  a link  to the press release from St. Michael’s Hospital.

Image Credit: Nick Page,