$450,000 grant supports program for coping with traumatic injury to brain, spinal cord

Dennis Dyck and Dr. Bruce Becker are recipients of a $450,000 grant to develop a first-of-its-kind support program for people with traumatic brain or spinal cord injury and their families. The National Institute of Disabilities and Education Research awarded the grant.

The researchers’ structured management strategy will help patients and their families cope by providing information about the injury, and resources and suggestions for managing problems and issues, such as social isolation, altered family mechanics, depression, and economic strain.

Dyck is director of the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training and associate dean for research at Washington State University Spokane. He has just completed a five-year schizophrenia study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dyck and colleagues found that a two-year multiple family group (MFG) schizophrenia intervention improved symptoms, medication management and reduced hospitalizations. Moreover, family caregivers benefited by showing reduced distress, anger expression, and depression, and they went to the doctor less often.

Dyck believes MFG intervention will similarly benefit persons with brain and spinal cord injury. “Based on my experience with MFG, I’m convinced that this psychoeducational intervention will similarly assist patients and their families who are coping with traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury in their lives,” Dyck said.

Becker, medical director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, added, “The goal of the project is to develop strategies and educational materials to assist patients and their families in adapting to the many problems presented by spinal cord injury and brain injury. We hope this project will result in methods which will greatly reduce family stresses and improve internal family problem-solving capabilities, helping improve long-range patient and family health.”

MFG intervention has been extensively tested in the management of chronic schizophrenia and has recently been adapted to other medical conditions, including cancer and diabetes. The strategy brings together groups of six to eight families with two MFG group clinician/facilitators to support and teach families and patients about the disease process and management strategies. Although the intervention has been highly effective in the treatment of these conditions, it has never been used to manage traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury.

As part of the new program development project, Becker and Dyck will establish two spinal cord injury and two traumatic brain multifamily groups and will adapt measures previously studied in schizophrenia. The project will result in the development of multifamily group treatment manuals specific to spinal cord and brain injuries, as well as the training of MFG clinicians.