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Brain rehab to bridge the gap

A decade-long investment in research and collaboration is bearing fruit for this ECU team and the stroke and traumatic brain injury survivors they're committed to helping, writes Carrie Cox.

L-R: Aboriginal Brain Injury Coordinator Rebecca Clinch with brain injury survivor Justin Kickett.

It's not commonly known that Indigenous Australians are three times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to suffer a stroke or brain injury – one of the many 'gaps' our society seeks to close.

Those who work in Indigenous health know that these gaps – the impact of post-colonisation – are seldom bridged with the flourish of a pen or radical innovation, but rather through years and years of on-the-ground community engagement.

That's been the experience of ECU's Indigenous stroke research team, headed by Professor Beth Armstrong, from the School of Medical and Health Sciences. The research team is rolling out a breakthrough rehabilitation program after 10 years of working with Aboriginal-controlled community health organisations and the state government.

The first two of eight Indigenous brain injury coordinators have been appointed to support Aboriginal patients and their families in the critical weeks and months after a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

These are the people who otherwise fall through the gaps created by geography and cultural disadvantage.

The remaining six coordinators will be appointed over the next three years to ultimately ensure coverage of service right across Western Australia.

The appointments are the result of two back-to-back ECU research projects – Missing Voices and Healing Right Way – which have been informed by a vast and expanding web of partnerships among ECU, community services, health industry stakeholders and, most importantly, Aboriginal brain injury survivors and their families.

"In the space we work in, community engagement is absolutely vital, informing and shaping everything we do," Armstrong says. "It means that change takes time and you have to be patient and consistent. It's not just about building relationships but sustaining them.

"Information-gathering and effective two-way communication are critical facets of care, so we've partnered with hospitals, Aboriginal community‑controlled health services and policymakers to promote respectful and productive communication.

"Our goal has always been to bring trust and respect to brain injury rehabilitation for Aboriginal people. This is a group that continues to experience significant racism and other challenges that prevent them from accessing services and achieving good recovery from brain injury."

Armstrong explains the new Indigenous brain injury coordinators link survivors with not only formal rehabilitation, but also local community activities and groups that may assist in their recovery.

"As a significant amount of a person's ultimate recovery is said to occur in the first six months after injury, stimulation during this time is crucial," Armstrong says.

"It doesn’t have to be hospital-based rehab; it's more about keeping people connected after a brain injury because isolation is a major problem."

ECU's research also incorporates cultural security training for hospital staff to improve the accessibility of rehabilitation services for Aboriginal patients and their families.


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