It is common for people with a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) to feel anxious and unsettled, often having trouble judging distances. “We think this is because some patients have difficulty sensing where their body is in space and they have to work hard to negotiate their environment,” explains physiotherapist Shannon McGuire from the acquired brain injury (ABI) program at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Hospital. “They become overwhelmed and anxious because their brain is having trouble processing sensory information.”
Now, at Parkwood Hospital a specially-designed vest that combines weights and compression is helping patients with a mTBI know where their body is in space. It is helping them with balance, anxiety, fatigue, attention, concentration, and easing overstimulation in busy environments.
Not only are therapists at Parkwood Hospital forerunners in exploring the effectiveness of these vests, they are also enhancing the vests currently available in the marketplace by improving the fit and adding weights.
Linda DeGroot, a patient with a mTBI, felt an immediate transformation when she put the vest on. “It was the first time I’d felt secure since sustaining the mTBI,” says Linda, a teacher who sustained a concussion when she hit her head on the ice while playing hockey.
When Linda first came to Parkwood, she was experiencing tremendous levels of anxiety. As a result of her concussion she couldn’t drive her car, go to work, attend church or do many of the things she loved. For a woman used to being independent, Linda was suddenly very dependent on others.
After brainstorming other treatments for Linda, Shannon and her colleagues came up with the idea of using a compression vest. “Once I put the vest on, it was almost an immediate transformation,” says Linda. “It was the first time I’d felt secure since sustaining the mTBI.”
“The vest fits snugly to the body —it feels like it’s giving you a big hug,” says Shannon. “We believe the weight combined with compression helps patients feel more grounded.”
At first, Linda wore the vest whenever she left the house, but she has progressed so well that now she only wears it when she is in situations with a lot of new stimuli. After seeing Linda’s success with the compression vest, the ABI outpatient team began introducing it to other patients with similar results.
Shannon conducted pilot research with Physiotherapy students at Western University on the clinical impact of the compression vests for patients with a mTBI, and is now extending that research to gauge the impact of adding weight to the vest.