Exploring Concussions with Dr. Anne W. Hunt of the Concussion Centre at Holland Bloorview

On April 7th, BIST is hosting a FREE talk on Exploring Concussions:
Concussion Facts & Myths AND The latest Research Findings
 – featuring speakers Dr. Lesley Ruttan of Main St. Psychological Centre and Toronto Rehab; Dr. Carmela Tartaglia, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Disease and Dr. Anne W. Hunt, Manager, On TRACK concussion program Concussion Centre, Bloorview Research Institute, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
Our writer Karolina Urban spoke to Dr. Hunt about her upcoming talk with BIST.

KU:  What are some of the pieces of advice you have for those who have sustained a brain injury in terms of recovery?

AH:  Work as hard as your body and brain will let you; be open to doing things differently; keep in mind that recovery may continue for many years. I’ve seen survivors make significant changes many years after injury.

Dr. Anne W. Hunt
Dr. Anne W. Hunt

KU:  Can you tell me about the importance of time management and prioritization and how to best manage every day life? How important is goal setting? exercise? Doing the things you love?

AH: All of these things are important! It’s important for health and well-being in general to be engaged in activities every day that have purpose and meaning to each person.

Time management and prioritization are important skills that can help us to find time to do activities we need and want to do. Using calendars to schedule activities, using ‘to do’ lists, setting alarm reminders are strategies that may be helpful in managing time. Goal setting is helpful for some people, it is important to set goals that are specific, meaningful and relevant. Setting time frames for goal achievement can be tricky as sometimes following brain injury it can be challenging to know how long it might take to do something. Instead, think about what you might accomplish today and consider how you will accomplish that-make plans and then do it!

Exercise is good for health overall and contributes to optimal brain function. I encourage people with brain injury to participate in exercise that they enjoy, but to do this in a way that doesn’t make symptoms worse. This may mean doing the activity at a less intense level, for a shorter period of time or in a less stimulating environment.

BIST Exploring Concussions Talk
KU: In terms of mental health and dealing with the accident itself, can you speak to some of the tips and/or advice you have for someone who is dealing with persistent issues?

AH: Good mental health is important for well-being. Following brain injury, people may feel more emotional, this may include feeling sad, anxious, scared, angry, overwhelmed, and less confident to name a few. It’s important to develop a support network to help you through difficult times. Consider who your network is-who can you turn to for support-this might be a professional (e.g. therapist), a family member, or friend. If you are uncertain, community organizations like BIST may be able to provide some direction.

KU: Dr. Hunt can you tell me about some of your current or recent research and outcomes?

AH: As an occupational therapist by profession, I’m most interested in developing interventions to enable individuals with brain injury to participate optimally in meaningful activities.

Recently, I’ve been studying how self-management problem solving interventions can help adults and youth with mild traumatic brain injuries. Results from our initial work are very positive. People like these interventions and they are useful in helping people get back to doing activities as well as improving their mood. Our work is in very early stages though so more research is needed.

I’ve also been investigating how vision is affected following brain injury. Visual issues are not uncommon following brain injury. We think that in some people visual issues may be contributing to symptoms like headache and fatigue. Currently we are focusing on understanding and identifying these visual changes in youth following concussion.

KU: Where do you see research fitting in to rehabilitation and assisting recovery or helping to get people back to their daily lives?

AH: Research is very important in brain injury rehabilitation. We need to develop evidence to help us understand what interventions work for specific individuals-no two people with brain injury are alike! Participating in research may have benefits for brain injury survivors. By participating in an intervention study for example, there is the potential to benefit from the intervention itself, plus research participants typically feel good about participating in general because they are contributing to research and ultimately helping others with brain injury.

Although intervention studies may be hard to find, I encourage anyone who may have an interest to contact their local hospital’s research program. Being a research participant can be a very rewarding experience.

Find out more about BIST’s Exploring Concussions Speaker Series HERE

Register by March 31st at info@bist.ca

BIST Exploring Concussions Talk

 Karolina Urban is a former University of Toronto and Canadian Women’s Hockey League player. Currently she is a PhD student at the Concussion Centre in Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital

Neuroplasticity + Brain Fitness: Q + A with Dr. Peter Rumney of Holland Bloorview


On October 15th, BIST is hosting a free speaker forum on Neuroplasticity and Brain Fitness, with Dr. Peter Rumney, the physician director of Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team at Holland Bloorview; Dr. Robin Green, Canada Research Chair and Senior Scientist at Toronto Rehabilitation Insitute; Paul Hyman, President and CEO of Brain Fitness International and Anthony Aquan-Assee, TBI survivor, teacher, author and motivational speaker.

Before the event, our blogger Karolina Urban spoke with Dr. Rumney about his talk.

Photo of Dr. Petery Rumney

KU: Why did you choose this topic to talk about?
Dr. Rumney: There is a lot of interest in trying to prevent, and /or avoid dementia, and why and what are the factors in being successful at this. Just like the old questions you used to have for someone who lived to be 100: what did you do to get there?

KU: What are the general thoughts about exercise and brain health?
Dr. Rumney: Research shows that some things are clearly helpful, such as regular exercise, healthy neuro-stimulation, healthy physical stimulation and being lucky enough to have good genes. The idea is to keep the brain well stimulated and well fed, meaning it has oxygen, good blood flow and nutrition. For example, when you damage the heart and vascular system by smoking, or abusing alcohol and drugs, then you have reduced blood flow. You want to make sure that you promote good circulation to the brain by keeping your heart healthy?.

KU: Are there any studies that have shown the clear link between exercise and prevention of dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Dr. Rumney: There are studies that have looked at elderly nuns in Italy. Here they saw that they seldom had issues of Alzheimer’s and one of the things they did was a lot of mental stimulation and crossword puzzles. It appears if you keep stimulating the brain to learn knew things, then it is helpful in maintaining function. However some individuals who have very taxing and cognitively demanding jobs could have quicker onset of dementia.

Some studies include a neuro-psychologist developing a comprehensive set of tasks for working memory, which have seen positive carry over to other activities that demand working memory. The nice thing is that, if you have improvement in working memory you can have improvement in attention and concentration.

Picture of a jump rope in the shape of a brain

KU: What about all these online gaming platforms aspiring to help maintain brain health?
A. Everybody knows Luminosity! But the question is whether these games succeed in doing what they tell you they do, such as reducing your brain age and cognitive fitness by getting faster and better at their games.

I don’t believe there is a lot of science to prove their claims, you know when you do those games you get better at those games and doesn’t mean you will be better at taxes, or conversing with your family. This “cross fit kind of idea” is to show where there is evidence or where there isn’t.

KU: You talk about increasing blood flow to the brain, are there specific exercises that can lead to that?
Dr. Rumney: From what I understand, it’s aerobic activities that are most likely to do it, [such as] running, walking, swimming and cycling. The other literature talks about what does a ‘lifestyle choice’ do in the long run. Walking is an easily done, low impact, low cost activity that is as effective as other ones, [though] you do have to walk longer.

KU: Can you tell me about regular exercise following acquired brain injury?
Dr. Rumney:We recognize that regular exercise for ABI can be very helpful. For some reason brain injury really doesn’t affect a person’s endurance over and above the deconditioning that happens following the injury. Keeping regularly active helps individuals maintain their energy and endurance, which helps naturally increase blood flow to the brain. It also helps the person sleep and good, healthy sleep is the best way for the brain to restore itself and learn new information.

We also know that individuals [who are living with a brain injury] are dealing with a lot of stress and there are positive effects of exercise and endorphins in dealing with stress.

[Brain injury survivors] also have trouble focusing attention. Burning off extra energy has a positive effect and increases their ability to focus. The question is, can we take the next step in prescribing types of therapy? For example, very old forms of therapy such as yoga and tai chi, [which are] slower, less aerobic types of activity, look at stretching, balancing and coordination and [along with] mindfulness and mediation. Helping individuals deal with pain and therapy, is actually quite safe and we are prescribing it.

Q. What’s your favorite activity or sport?
A. I like cycling, and my other interest is archery but it’s harder to do in the city. My other interests are art and carpentry. Other things are the study of music, musicians have positive overlap with right hemispheric function and learning a new language and may have positive effects.


 Karolina Urban is a former University of Toronto and Canadian Women’s Hockey League player. Currently she is a PhD student at the Concussion Centre in Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital.