Living with an acquired brain injury 2014

This report, titled "Barriers and facilitators to developing natural community supports as a basis for independent living: the experiences and perceptions of people with acquired brain injury", gives the findings of research conducted by University College Cork with 26 people with acquired brain injury. The focus was on the role that family, friends, community groups, and the local community can play. This research was funded by the National Disability Authority under the Research Promotion Grants Scheme.

Summary of the main findings:

This study found that natural community supports were comprised of two distinct groupings; firstly immediate families, friends and peer support groups; secondly neighbours and local community groups such as sporting and activity- based organisations and groups.

The findings of this study indicate that living with acquired brain injury involves a process where the person moves from acute high intensity health services onto rehabilitative services and then onto re-establishing independent lives. It is evident that smooth transitions and interconnectivity of services are essential in facilitating this recovery process. Instrumental to the recovery is the support of immediate family and close friends, who form people’s immediate natural support network and go a long way towards facilitating individuals in rebuilding their lives. 

A key finding of this study is that broader natural community supports do not appear to play as central a role in supporting individuals to live independent lives when compared to the role of family and friends. The lack of involvement of broader community groups, in many ways, prompted individuals to contact formal support services. For the majority of participants, independence is facilitated through the combination of immediate natural community supports and formal services.

The role of formal support services is key to developing broader community support networks. This study found a blurred division between formal services and broader community support networks. The authors recommended that the role of formal supports services in acting as a bridge between the needs of the individual and the development of meaningful community networks, be formally recognised and further developed. Additionally, they argued that the importance of the role of broader natural community, supports such as those provided by community and sporting groups must be enhanced. Greater awareness of the issues faced by people living with acquired brain injury and its often invisible nature is necessary in this endeavour.

The authors stated it is important to recognise that there are multiple issues impacting on independent living and these issues intersect, for instance with age, gender, employment, qualifications and so on. A lack of public awareness of acquired brain injury was found to be a key barrier to independent living, along with issues relating to socialising, access to employment and finances.
The findings of this study reflect the complexities of living with acquired brain injury and the need for holistic support that is cognisant of the factors which impact on integration. It is vital that flexible, personalised services are developed which are fit for purpose and meet the needs of not only people with acquired brain injury but also their immediate natural community support network. Recognition of the intersection between immediate/ broader natural community supports and formal services is also key to developing the comprehensive and practical supports required to achieve an independent life.

This was a qualitative study and all participants were sourced through Headway, a community based service provider for people with ABI. Data collection was divided into two stages: firstly focus groups, followed by individual interviews. Four focus groups were convened in Cork (2), Dublin (1) and Limerick (1). Each focus group was facilitated by at least two members of the research team and a total of twenty-six individuals participated in the focus groups. Thematic analysis of the data was undertaken to guide and inform the second stage of the study; the individual interviews. Ten interviews were undertaken with individuals who presented with ABI in the Cork and Limerick regions.

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