Two faculty awarded prestigious Canada Research Chairs

Researchers to examine traumatic brain injury for underserved people, pediatric concussions

Two faculty members of the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy will be doing research in expanding understanding of traumatic brain injuries and pediatric concussions, after receiving Canada Research Chairs.

Photo of Prof. Nick Reed

On December 16, the 2020 Canada Research Chairs were announced. Professor Angela Colantonio was awarded a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Traumatic Brain Injury in Underserved Populations. Professor Nick Reed was awarded a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Pediatric Concussion.

Colantonio is a Professor in the Department of OS&OT and the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute and a Senior Scientist at University Health Network’s Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-KITE.

Reed is an Associate Professor in the Department of OS&OT and the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute and an Adjunct Scientist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

We asked Professors Colantonio and Reed to share with us how their research will impact society and occupational therapy practice.

Professor Colantonio, Why is the area you’re doing research of public importance, and what are you hoping to learn more about through the Canada Research Chair?

Colantonio: My research explores health services for people with traumatic brain injury with a focus on marginalized Canadians who are underserved by the health care system.

We have to address the lack of awareness, understanding and support for people with brain injury, particularly among the most underserved populations. Some of these communities are women who experience intimate partner violence, people who experience housing instability or who interact with the justice system.

My work aims to create more capacity inside and outside the health care system to address the unique needs of  Canadians who have a traumatic brain injury.

I hope to enable greater access to rehabilitation professionals, such as occupational therapists, who can support people experiencing cognitive and other health outcomes resulting from brain injury.

I also plan to address larger societal and environmental conditions that historically lead to discrepancies in health services available to underserved people, for example, by creating educational and training tools for health professionals and other front line workers who interact with members of these communities. My research considers sex and gender, ethnicity, age and other determinants of health that affect provision of and access to services.

What is the goal of your work, Professor Reed?

Reed: The goal of my work is to raise concussion awareness, improve concussion-related health behaviours and optimize care and rehabilitation options for children and youth following a concussion.  The need for concussion support and care has never been higher in Canada.
Concussion, which is a mild traumatic brain injury, isn’t only a sports injury and can happen from many different causes.

As a society, we need to know more about concussion so that we can properly recognize when an injury has taken place and take the right steps towards recovery and positive health outcomes.

My goal over the next five years is to create and share new treatments for concussion, positively change concussion knowledge, attitudes, and health behaviours, and improve social support for children and youth with concussion.

Concussion, which is a mild traumatic brain injury, isn’t only a sports injury and can happen from many different causes. Because of this, I hope to engage a broader population beyond athletes to provide necessary supports to children and youth impacted by concussion.  This research will have a particular emphasis on populations and communities that have largely been left out of concussion research, education and care initiatives to date.

How will your research benefit occupational therapy practice and education?

Colantonio: Occupational therapists are uniquely positioned to advance the health and well-being of people with traumatic brain injury in underserved populations because of their holistic approach to care. They understand the impact of the environment and the wider social context in which people live, and are therefore well equipped to recognize and address barriers.

Occupational therapy and rehabilitation in general have not yet been included in the care of people with traumatic brain injury in underserved populations.

However, occupational therapy and rehabilitation in general have not yet been substantially included in the care of people with traumatic brain injury in underserved populations. This program of research will highlight the important role of occupational therapists and rehabilitation to improve health outcomes and reduce social injustice, and ultimately, advance occupational therapy practice with, and the profession’s contribution to, this area.

My research program embodies the values of the occupational therapy profession and I couldn’t think of a better place to conduct this research. This program will provide extraordinary research and clinical training opportunities and will open the door for new areas of practice for occupational therapy students. I feel extremely fortunate to be advancing our research in this environment.

Reed: This research is fundamentally grounded in occupational therapy by virtue that it aims to enable children and youth with concussion to do the things they need, want and love to do in their lives.

Often after a concussion, a lot of emphasis is put on the symptoms that a child feels or reports (e.g., headaches, nausea, decreased attention etc.). However, we really need to focus on how these symptoms impact function, or what a child can or cannot do in their lives, for instance  go to school, play sports, or spend time with friends or family.

Occupational therapists focus on function, on getting people back to life after injury, and can provide such an important perspective during concussion care and rehabilitation.

Occupational therapy practice will benefit by putting the findings of this research into action, informing new approaches to education and care, and creating a role for occupational therapy when caring for children and youth after a concussion.

“As international leaders in their fields, Professors Angela Colantonio and Nick Reed are committed to enabling meaningful participation and improving the quality lives of people with traumatic brain injury,” states Heather Colquhoun, Interim Chair, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.  “The investment by the Canada Research Chair program will allow them to further advance their work and train the next generation of promising researchers in the field. I am thrilled to have their expertise in our Department and look forward to the contributions they will make to health and well-being in the groups they serve.”

The Canada Research Chair program was created by the Government of Canada in 2000 to help Canadian universities attract and retain world-renowned researchers, develop Canadian research expertise and achieve excellence in training. Tier 1 awards provide researchers $200,000 annually for seven years and Tier 2 awards provide researchers $100,000 for five years.

Authors: Dayna Frydman and Sandra Sokoloff