Traumatic brain injury victims who feel close to a “higher power” have better emotional and physical rehabilitation outcomes, according to a new study from recent Wayne State University graduate Brigid Waldron-Perrine and her mentor, Wayne State psychology professor Lisa J. Rapport.

The study has been published in the scholarly journal Rehabilitation Psychology.

Traumatic brain injury is a disruption of normal brain function after a head injury and affects 1.7 million Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those struggling with the long-term effects of TBI are at a heightened risk for mental and physical problems. Such problems can significantly inhibit rehabilitation outcomes and are therefore important to address in the context of rehabilitation efforts. And when TBI leaves people feeling stressed, less satisfied with life and functionally dependent on others, rehabilitation is the only option.

“Among healthy adults, religion and spirituality have shown strong association with improved life satisfaction and physical and mental health outcomes,” said Waldron-Perrine. But research about religion’s effect on TBI rehabilitation in particular is lacking. To fill this void, Waldron-Perrine interviewed and completed neuropsychological tests on 88 individuals diagnosed with TBI, most of whom were male, African American Christians. Participants also completed a neuropsychological measure of their cognitive abilities. A significant other of each TBI victim also participated and reported on the injured individual’s functional status.

Waldron-Perrine found that most participants who reported higher levels of religious well-being — a connection to a higher power — had better emotional and physical rehabilitation outcomes. But public religious activities or practice and existential well-being — a sense that life has a purpose apart from any religious reference — did not have such an effect influence on rehabilitation outcome.

This “intriguing” finding, she said, may be due to the fact that TBI victims lack full control of their ability to participate in public religious practice.

“They often must rely on others for scheduling and transportation to social events, so their public religious participation does not wholly reflect their true use of religious resources,” she said.

As expected on the basis of previous studies, social support was related to positive physical and mental rehabilitation results. This, Waldron-Perrine said, is consistent with other research studies linking religious social support to positive health outcomes in other populations. But even when Waldron-Perrine adjusted for social support, religious well-being still stood as a unique and strong predictor of positive health outcomes in TBI patients.

“Individuals cope with the tools available to them, and perhaps especially for those with limited means and few alternatives, religion can take on great power as a psychosocial resource,” Waldron-Perrine said.

Waldron-Perrine’s doctoral dissertation, completed in Rapport’s lab, was the foundation of this study. Waldron-Perrine is now a post-doctoral fellow at the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Health Care System and University of Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry.

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Comments (3)
  1. Nicole M says:

    I am now an individual with TBI. I was hit while stopped at a toll booth by a drunk driver who was going about 55 mph. I am coming up on my 1 year anniversary (July 17), and thankfully I have been fortunate enough to start being able to learn about what TBI is and what it entails. The more I learn, the more I am amazed by how many people are affected yet how little information most people know about it. I just wanted to say THANK YOU for publishing this and even more for thinking to do this study!! And personally, since my accident, the more I get to know God and the closer I get to Him, the further along my recovery seems to go. So if for nothing else, I thank you for sharing this so at least I know I’m not the only one (or that I’m just crazy!)!! From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!!

  2. Joseph says:

    Almost 23 years ago, I fell about 43 feet off a bridge. I now have a plate in my head. If it was by the grace and love of God and my beautiful Christian wife that I am here today. Though I was in the hospital for 39 days and rehab for over a year, my believe in God was strong before and never diminished even after the accident. Your work on this finding shows many that knowing, believing and living God’s word and will that God is there for you. Reading this article was enjoyable.Thank you for taking the time to study and research this type of injury.

  3. Elayn says:

    This was a beautiful article and I am so grateful for the awareness and connectedness to a”higher power” no matter what a person’s spiritual or religious belief is. On July 04, 1995 I had a serious mountain bike accident in which I died. It is called an NDE (near death experience). Didn’t know anything about such an event but it was very powerful and profound. I chose to come back to help others recover from TBI (traumatic brain injuries) and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) as well as other injuries acute and chronic. You might say I am doing my God given Destiny work. His work thru me. The 16 years have been filled with unbelievable abuse and rejection and ridicule, abondonment, rape, beatings and eventually homeless. God was there all the time helping me deal with each event and giving me the fortitude to endure and find solutions. Now 16 years of surviving against all odds – I feel I can help others to work thru their traumas and find solutions and guide them from my example. We are never given anything that we cannot handle – the lessons in life are to build character but also to be inspirations for others. I wrote 2 poems that were very spiritually connected and supported me time and time again. Listen to the Silence (1st) when I was reduced to nothing I went deep inside to the Higher Unconscious level and realized that there it was the beginning of everything. The second The Unity of One is a poetic anommally and tells of faith and belief and how we express it within and outwardly and the healing journey. Always remember – what our thoughts are – we become. For whatever the brain can conceive – the body/mind will achieve. Blessings to all to your personal journey within and know the power of faith in process – healing is, built on faith. For it helps to perpetuate the soul’s divine journey. I really appreciated the high quality of this research and findings. Thank you with all my heart.

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