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Institute of Rural Health Receives $1 Million Grant for Brain Injury Research

October 18, 2021

Idaho State University’s Institute of Rural Health (IRH) has received a $1 million five-year grant that will help researchers study traumatic brain injuries in Idaho, and increase resources for those who suffer from them. 

The Administration for Community Living - an arm of the United States Department of Health and Human Services sponsored the grant. 

“Our goal is to expand support to persons with traumatic brain injury in Idaho,” said Russ Spearman, principal investigator and senior research associate with the Institute of Rural Health. “The state’s rurality and lack of access to health care and other resources place Idahoans at a higher risk for TBI compared to other populations.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 2 percent of people in the United States live with a disability caused by a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In Idaho, this translates to more than 14,000 TBI injuries per year, and 36,000 Idahoans living with a “severe” TBI-related disability. However, between 2016-2018, the state’s time-sensitive emergency response system recorded less than 5,000 incidents. In 2019, Idaho ranked 39th for insurance coverage with almost 11 percent of the population lacking health insurance coverage. 

Traumatic brain injuries can occur in many ways, including falls, vehicle-related collisions, violence, sports injuries, stroke, brain tumors, explosive blasts and other combat injuries. 

Mild traumatic brain injuries may require rest, close monitoring at home for any persistent, worsening, or new symptoms, and over-the-counter pain medication. Most people return to normal routines gradually.

However, severe injuries require emergency care, like oxygen, stabilization of the person’s body to avoid any additional injury, and sufficient oxygen and blood. These often require more long-term care, like rehabilitation, which may include the re-learning of basic skills, such as walking or talking. The goal is to improve their abilities to perform daily activities. 

The long-term effects of a mild traumatic brain injury can include frequent headaches, dizziness, depression, and thinking (cognitive) impairments. They can last for months and sometimes years post-injury and could lead to stroke, blood clots, and other problems. Short-term emotional effects from concussion, which is considered a brain injury, can include frustration, mood swings, depression, fear of future harm or injury, paranoia, aggressive behavior, increased risk for substance use/opioids and suicidal thoughts. In fact, suicide risk doubles within the first six months of a TBI.

“Understanding the leading contributors to TBI-related death and identifying groups at increased risk is important in preventing this injury,” Spearman said. “Health care providers can play an important role in assessing patients at increased risk, such as those at risk for suicide, unintentional motor vehicle crashes, or unintentional falls, and provide referrals or tailored interventions.”

With the grant, the Institute of Rural Health will work to:

  • update the traumatic brain injury state plan;
  • determine TBI prevalence in the state by including questions in Idaho’s behavioral risk factor surveillance system and pilot test an intensive care unit protocol for individuals with a diagnosed TBI in hospitals;
  • increase traumatic brain injury resource facilitation, and;
  • expand traumatic brain injury screening to include both children and adults with co-occurring conditions, as a TBI may be missed being diagnosed if there are other conditions present. 

Under this new grant, the Institute of Rural Health will expand clinic use from speech and language and counseling to also include mental health, and physical/occupational therapy, including in the Meridian area.  Over the next five years, efforts will focus on screening and resource facilitation for refugees, Native Americans, individuals experiencing homelessness, Hispanic adults, and children including those with a co-occurring condition.

The Institute of Rural Health partners with multiple groups across Idaho in order to expand their care and research, including the Department of Health and Welfare, Department of Education, Idaho Parents Unlimited, Idaho Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health and the Brain Injury Alliance of Idaho.



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