From a BIST Member: Stress Intensifies the Situation

Everyone has felt stress. There is good stress, like being excited about an event, preparing for it, blocking off the time, asking questions.
Then there is negativity in worry. Your heart is still palpitating, mind racing, yet your conscious is predicting an unfortunate end result.
Closely connected, positive and negative stressors often exhibit some of the same bodily responses. The difference is, good stress usually is welcomed. But, anxiety can be harmful to living your life.
photo of woman using mobile phone
Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels
It is likely by now you have heard someone say ‘these are unprecedented times,’ never before has the entire world had to guard against a virus.
The thing you have to do, is reach for the positive stress in this negative draw on life. I do not mean ignore it, still wash your hands and keep physical distancing, but see the good feelings that exist in society and how it encourages relief.
As you have likely heard, many of BIST’s programs have moved online. BIST is also available for Phone Support, Monday – Friday 12 – 4 pm at: 416-830-1485.

I attended the last session of the ABI Info Series, Compensatory Strategies during COVID-19,  a webinar hosted by BIST executive director Melissa Vigar, with programs coordinator Ryan Natale, speech language pathologist Simone Friedman, occupational therapist Natalie Kalymon and David MacDonald, a partner at BIST’s Corporate Platinum Sponsor PIA Law, who spoke on the importance of communication.

You can watch the webinar below, and all of BIST’s webinars are available online at:

It is a matter of fact, now more than ever, people are starving for communication. People all over the world are reaching out in song, with signs, shouting from balconies in order to have any kind of bond with their neighbour. Always keeping an acceptable distance apart.

Humans are social beings. I can see in my two-year-old’s mimicking actions that are often reflections, or in part reactions, of how she sees others behave. Right now, my daughter is staying with my parents who can take care of her better, and I am isolating alone in my condo.

But, I don’t feel alone.

I am happy with my Philosophy books, my channels (CBC is free to watch, at this time) on a TV App, and the communication I receive through telephone and Internet service. I walk to the store around my neighbourhood in Oakville, to get my exercise in; everyone is respecting the distancing. #WeAreInThisTogether

Not to say, there isn’t work to do! Lots of suggestions were prepared during the webinar, including both physical and cognitive activities to do on your own time. It might be effective to search out Apps that are available to help establish a good routine such as the Fabulous App, which you can read a review about HERE.

Personally, I am a news junkie, but I understand why it might be beneficial to limit yourself to only morning or afternoon. Suffice it to say, attending the webinar, was a nice reprieve. That’s my own little joke. Life is an opportunity to search inside and explore your feelings, everyone has an experience to portray.

It is nonetheless unprecedented, that the entire world, is imagining the same reality. Be flexible and always remain positive. #FindASolution

Shannon Schilling lives in Oakville and has a beautiful girl named Annabelle Lorraine, who does not stop smiling! Shannon is a life-long learner, who will be attending UTM again, because that’s where she feels the most connected. #StaySafe

Financial Abuse & Fraud during COVID-19: What YOU Need to Know


Scammers flourish during times of crisis, and sadly the COVID-19 Outbreak is no exception.

People living with dementia and Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) may have slowed information processing abilities and other cognitive symptoms. This means that people living with these conditions – and those who care for them – have to be even more vigilant in protecting themselves against scams and fraud.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has up-to-date information on current scams, including those related to the COVID-19 Outbreak.

These scams include:

  • A scam that comes by text, claiming to have information about the Government of Canada’s New Emergency Response Benefit. The best place to get reliable information about financial benefits is the Government of Canada’s website. You can also contact 211 by dialling 2-1-1 OR contact the BIST Office: 416-830-1485 or
  • False healthcare or research information – often they will want to sell you fake treatments.
  • Fake charities requesting money to assist victims or do research. Do not feel pressured to make a donation. You can verify that a charity is registered, HERE.
  • Fake and deceptive online ads, including:
    • cleaning products
    • hand sanitizers
    • other items in high demands

If you think you are being targeted by a COVID-19 or any other scam, you can contact:

Risk of financial exploitation can increased if someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, living alone, and / or dealing with adverse health conditions. Older adults are more likely to experience more than one of these challenges.

The Top 3 Signs of a SCAM

How can I protect myself?

With funding from the Government of Ontario, nformation is power: BIST is spreading awareness to ensure that you and your loved ones are armed with the information you need to prevent financial abuse and fraud.

Check out our Online Toolkit: for information!

The topics are broken down as follows, each with their own dedicated webpage:

What Is the Difference between Financial Abuse & Fraud?

Financial Abuse:

  • Occurs when someone you know and trust gains financially at your expense.
  • It can range from being quite obvious to very tricky to spot.
  • Often occurs repeatedly rather than in one isolated event.

Examples of Financial Abuse:

  • Someone stealing money from your wallet.
  • Feeling pressured to sign documents that you don’t understand.

People who commit fraud have 1 of 2 GOALS


  • Occurs when someone deceives you into giving up money, property, or personal information for their own gain.
  • The general goal is to get money. This is usually done through scams targeting you directly to pay up, or indirectly through using your personal information. Common scams include phone, door-to-door, and online.
  • Fraud is a crime.

Examples of Fraud:

  • Someone pressuring /threatening you to give them your money.
  • Someone coming to your door unexpectedly to sell you a service.
  • Someone stealing your personal information (identity theft).

Find more examples of common scams:

Learn more about Fraud and how to protect yourself:

What are the Similarities between Financial Abuse & Fraud?

  • Both can happen anywhere to anyone – no one is immune!
  • Protect yourself against financial abuse and fraud with knowledge and resources.

What Can I Do About It?

  • If you think you are a victim of financial abuse or fraud, report it to your local Police Department.
  • Call BIST at 416-830-1485 or We are open and providing telephone and online support during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Visit the BIST Resources page for more info and checklists to make sure you are protecting yourself.

Financial Abuse - fastest growing form of abuse against people with disabilities

Top Takeaways

  • If you are experiencing dementia &/or ABI, you may be at greater risk of experiencing financial abuse and fraud.
  • Know the various types of scams that scammers use so you can protect yourself.
  • If you are unsure about something, ask someone you trust. It never hurts to get another opinion.
  • If you think you have been a victim of financial abuse &/or fraud, know that you are not alone! – These can affect anyone. Contact your Local Police Department.

BIST is holding a FREE Webinar on Wednesday, April 1st at 2:00 p.m. on How to Protect Yourself Against Financial Abuse and Fraud – Including COVID-19 Scams! Register for the Webinar, HERE.

You’ll need to use the ZOOM App to attend this webinar. Find out how, HERE.

Protect yourself from scams



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Julia Renaud is a ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. She is an advocate within the health care community and has been featured in the coffee table book, A Caged Mind by May Mutter, which exposes the nature of concussions through body painting.

An unconventional love story


Dating is a nightmare. Dating after a brain injury is even scarier. Which is why I feel so happy and hopeful whenever I hear of people finding love after a traumatic injury. So, I convinced my normally private husband to let me share our unconventional love story, as well as the difficulties that we face as a couple.

I want other survivors and caregivers to know that brain injury shouldn’t be a barrier to forming and maintaining healthy, life-long partnerships.

couple spelling the word LOVE with their hands
Tyler Nix

I met John through an online dating site in November, 2012. It’s funny how one seemingly insignificant decision can completely change the outcome of your life. I was tempted to cancel our first date, even while on my way to meet him. Luckily, I didn’t, because I felt a connection the instant we met. He had a genuine smile, an attractive voice, and I could tell he was kind. A mutual friend told me that he didn’t think that John and I would be a good match. He was right about the incompatibility of our personalities, but we had so much chemistry that it didn’t matter at the time.

After going on just a handful of dates with John, I acquired my first concussion in March, 2013. He spent nearly every night visiting me, sitting quietly and motionless in a dark room. In May, 2013, John gave me a key to his condo because he wanted me to have a peaceful and loving environment to recover in. That’s when he became my caregiver and lifesaver.

Sign that says Happily Ever After
Ben Rosett

Approximately one year later, when I was finally starting to see significant improvements to my symptoms, I had a freak accident at home and acquired my second concussion. Despite having to restart the recovery phase, John proposed in July, 2014.

He said that even if my condition never improved, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. (Neither of us would have ever guessed that things were going to get much, much worse.) I had always said that I didn’t want to be married to anyone. In fact, on our second date, when we were talking about our life goals, John told me that he was hoping to get married and start a family and I told him that I wasn’t looking to be anyone’s wife or mother. (Do you see why our mutual friend didn’t think we would work out?)

But since marriage was important to John and both of our families, I agreed. While planning our wedding, I had a car accident and sustained my third concussion. Despite exacerbated symptoms, we got married as planned, in September, 2015. It was a beautiful, fun, and meaningful wedding and I will always be grateful for that day.

However, our first year of marriage was far from romantic. We were emotionally disconnected, exhausted, resentful, and constantly arguing. We separated less than 14 months into the marriage. I’ve always believed that you can’t really know a person until you see how they behave after breaking up. And despite having hard feelings, the way that John treated me after we separated made me see and appreciate him in a new light.

Holding Hands
Luong Huynh

During our separation, we received individual counseling as well as marriage counseling. John was able to get the break that he desperately needed and I regained a sense of independence. But above all, the physical distance allowed us to get a different perspective on our relationship and our individual needs.

We learned that our relationship hadn’t had the opportunity to develop conventionally and so when John became my caregiver, our relationship quickly adopted an unbalanced dynamic. As opposed to being romantic partners, he felt like a parent and I felt like a patient. We also became isolated from friends and family from operating in survival mode for too long. Therapy really helped us to understand our triggers and needs, and to change the dynamic of our relationship. We started to get to know each other as friends, compromise and support each other as equals, and incorporate fun and adventure to our shared lives. John now feels loved for who he is as opposed to what he does and I feel seen and respected.

With John by my side, I went on to survive misdiagnosis, multiple strokes, and two major brain surgeries. I am happy to share that despite the unimaginable and relentless difficulties, John and I celebrated our four-year wedding anniversary in September, 2019. We’ve never felt stronger as a couple.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a list of complaints and I’d be surprised if his list for me wasn’t just as long, but we communicate healthily, share joy in our daily lives, are growing as individuals together, and wouldn’t trade each other for anything. We wouldn’t mind winning the lottery, though, just in case the universe is listening.

‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other health problems). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor. You can follow her on Twitter, HERE.




How music therapy can help after brain injury


For many people with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), rehab or therapy is a necessary regimen to regain basic skills such as walking and speaking. Few people, however, realize therapy doesn’t always need to be full of weights, exercise equipment or walking aids. These spaces can also be filled with guitars, pianos, or small drums and still help both physical and cognitive rehabilitation.

Music therapy, although relatively new, is a beneficial option for people in a range of circumstances, from developmental disorders to recovery from ABI. In most cases, it works alongside traditional rehab in order to yield stronger and faster results.


From a basic neurological perspective, listening to music activates various areas in the brain. The stimulation causes new pathways to be created as the effects of music spread. This is essential when brain injury has occurred and there are non-functional areas, new pathways are made in order to avoid the non-functional areas and regain skills from creating an initial response through music.

Music therapy involves a non-musical goal that is continuously re-evaluated throughout progress. These are often cognitive goals that musical therapists help patients reach while assessing their non-musical abilities through the different aspects of music.


Have you ever started tapping your foot along to the beat of a song without realizing? That’s because you were aware of the music playing and to matched that rhythm both cognitively and physically (even if you didn’t intend to).

Tempo is one of the most important elements that allows musical therapists to help non-verbal patients. Even if the patient isn’t capable of clapping or tapping along to the rhythm, their internal metronome still ticks and they can react to tempo. Music therapists check if they’re breathing in synch with the tempo of the music to determine if the patient is aware of the music playing.

Other cues from patients include changes in muscle tension or relaxation and improvising music. These demonstrate signal perception in the brain and environmental awareness. They are just some elements that help therapists assess their patients to help them in non-musical ways.

The benefits of music therapy are also diverse. They can range from helping a patient maintain eye contact to helping non-verbal patients enter into dialogue. Some benefits include attention and mental health.

If the patient is aware of their environment enough to perceive the music, their neural pathways remain stimulated throughout the song. The continuous brain activation generates strong pathways that can be used for extended periods of time for other tasks. The patient therefore gradually improves their attention span.


Music therapy can also improve the mental health of patients with brain injury. In a case study of a patient with Multiple Sclerosis, anxiety and depression were reduced and the patient stopped identifying themselves as someone sick. Instead, they recognized their creative identity and were able to improve their self-esteem after music therapy.

Overall, while music therapy is not a popular option for people struggling with brain injury, the effects have been consistently positive for wide a range of conditions. Alongside other rehab therapies, music therapy can help patients develop new skills and reacquire lost abilities through the neural activation of music. So, let’s start the beat and make some music!

Want More Information?


Gilbertson, S., & Aldridge, D. (2008). Music Therapy and Traumatic Brain Injury: A Light on a Dark Night. London: Jessica Kinglsey Publishers.

Levitin, D. J., (2006). This Is Your Brain On Music. New York, NY: Plume.

MacNeil Lehrer Productions. (2012). Brain Injuries: The Healing Power of Music [Television Broadcast]. United States: PBS NewsHour.



Thai papaya avocado cucumber salad


We know that tropical weather is far from the reality in our part of the world right now, but it is possible to find ripe tropical fruits such as papaya and mango in the stores. So trick your tastebuds into thinking it’s summer with this delicious salad – a great side dish or on its own.

Thai Papaya Avocodo Cucumber Salad


1 ripe papaya or mango, peeled and seeded
1 English cucumber seeded and chopped
4 green onions, sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 large ripe avocado, peeled & chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 small jalepeno or red chili minced
2 limes juice & zest
2 tbsp fish sauce or rice vinegar/tamari for vegan option
2 tsp sugar chopped fresh cilantro , parsley or mint
Salted peanuts to garnish


Combine all together and enjoy!

Chef Janet Craig recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly.

You can find out more about her HERE.

Satisfied Soul



How to rock climb with a disability


Having a disability just means that you do things differently, but it doesn’t have to prevent you from engaging in physical activities. Thanks to Canadian Adaptive Climbing  Society, people with different abilities can now safely rock climb in Toronto, ON and Squamish, BC.


Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society offers a therapeutic indoor climbing program that is currently run by occupational therapists. Using adaptive equipment (e.g. various harnesses, counterweight system, etc.), people with different physical abilities due to circumstances such as spinal chord injuries, and brain injuries (including invisible disabilities) can safely and comfortably rock climb. The advantages of climbing go beyond the physical benefits of utilizing muscle groups and promoting neuroplasticity. It also has cognitive benefits like practicing planning and problem solving. Furthermore, climbing is a social activity, a form of mindfulness, and it’s empowering; it fosters courage, self-trust and self-esteem which transfer to other areas of life. I attended one of their free Try-It sessions in Toronto and here was my experience.


My Experience Trying Adaptive Climbing

The session started off with brief introductions and an inspirational story from Jaisa, the lovely woman responsible for helping Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society to launch its Therapeutic Climbing program in Toronto. When she first discovered adaptive climbing, she was only able to climb using the medial part of her feet. Then, gradually, she was able to climb using the tips of her toes. Nine years after her injury, she’s still seeing improvements and is now also able to climb using the outer sides of her feet. Thanks to her and her team, many other people will be able to experience therapeutic adaptive climbing.

The occupational therapists and volunteers that I met were really nice, knowledgeable and passionate about climbing. Prior to our arrival, the team had already been informed of the participants’ health conditions and limitations, and were sensitive, mindful, and extremely helpful with appropriate recommendations. So, I felt very safe. There was at least one volunteer/therapist paired with each participant. Participants are encouraged to learn how to tie the ropes, which is great for brain training and independence. In order to climb, I needed the counterweight system, which is a rope and pulley system that connects the climber to someone else. This reduces the climber’s body weight (i.e. pressure), thus making it easier to hold themselves up and climb upwards. You can adjust the level of difficulty by choosing someone that is heavier or lighter to be your counterweight. When I was connected to someone heavier than me, it felt as if my body was already being pulled up. With that assistance, I was able to climb the wall all the way to the top, more than once.

I had tried indoor rock climbing before my brain injury and easily climbed a 100-foot chimney my first time. But during the adaptive climbing session, I noticed that aside from having weakness and numbness in my extremities, my body didn’t move instinctively like it used to. I really had to think about how to position my core, when to turn my body, and I had to purposely rely on my legs more than my arms. After a brain or spinal cord injury, our movement and connection with our bodies gets disrupted, and I think that climbing regularly would help with moving efficiently and naturally again.

I want to note that the stimulation from the bright coloured rocks and tall walls made me a bit nauseous part way through the session. Nevertheless, I hope that you’ll consider registering for one of Canadian Adaptive Climbing’s free Try-It (sign up to get contacted for a session in Toronto) sessions to see if this activity is right for you!

‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other health problems). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor. You can follow her on Twitter, HERE.