8 tips on how to holiday after brain injury

BY: ALISON

Feelings of apprehension, stress, and loneliness often accompany the anticipation of winter holidays for brain injury survivors and their caregivers. Typical stressors such as finances, unpleasant gatherings, and being too busy are much more difficult to manage.  When brain injury causes changes to employment, cognitive deficits, lowered emotional health, chronic fatigue, and sensitivity to stimulation, things can be that much harder.

Here are some tips and ideas for enjoying the holidays after a brain injury:

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FREE and ABI friendly activities to do in Toronto over the holidays

BY: ALISON

Not feeling the Holiday Spirit?

You are not alone! But in case you want to start feeling those holiday vibes, here’s a list of free, brain injury friendly activities in Toronto. You never know, you may get into the spirit after all.

  1. Check out Amazing Christmas Decorations 🎅🏾

Go for a walk or drive in neighbourhoods that are known for their extravagant decorations. For example, the residents on Inglewood Drive (which happens to be close to the BIST Office, just south of St. Clair and Mount Pleasant, DIRECTIONS) put up giant blow-up Santa Clauses all along the street. But there are more! You can find other incredible decoration displays in Toronto, HERE.

 2. Watch a free or low cost Christmas movie! 🎬

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is showing classic Christmas movies for free, a price that can’t be beat! 506 Bloor Street West, DIRECTIONS

On Saturday mornings at 11 a.m., select Cineplex theatres offer screenings of family friendly Christmas movies for $2.99, which isn’t a bad deal either.

Tips: bring ear plugs and sunglasses to reduce the stimulation from watching movies in a theatre. Adding ear muffs and / or a toque will further reduce the noise.

3. Go to (one of many) Holiday Markets! 🎄

Toronto has upped its Holiday Market game in the past few years, and many of them have free admission. Check out some of the more popular ones below.

  • The Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District has free admission on weekdays, and begins to charge admission on weekends starting on Friday nights at 6 p.m: 373 Front St E, DIRECTIONS
  • Evergreen’s Winter Village has a charming ice rink, a Christmas Market and other wonders: 550 Bayview Avenue, DIRECTIONS
  • stackt Market is a “unique, ever-changing and curated retail experience” plus it’s indoors and pet friendly: 28 Bathurst Street, DIRECTIONS
  • Nathan Phillips Square Holiday Square, what could be more Toronto than skating at the Square? The Holiday Square is a space where a winter carnival and Christmas Market come together. Best, it’s always free: 100 Queen Street West, DIRECTIONS. How many times can we say square in one bullet point?

 

 4. Soak in the tropics and glitter in the 6ix 🌴
  • The Winter Flower Garden in Allan Gardens is filled with displays of stunning flowers, plants and vines from all over the world. International, natural beauty without the jet lag: 19 Horticultural Ave, DIRECTIONS
  • Did you know there is a bamboo forest in the heart of downtown Toronto?  Check out the The Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and it’s hidden bamboo treasures: 160 College Street, DIRECTIONS
Tunnel of Glam
PHOTO VIA YONGE + ST. CLAIR
  • Did you know there’s a sequinned-filled tunnel at Yonge and St. Clair, right by the BIST Office? Yes, you read that right. Check out the Tunnel of Glam: 1501 Yonge Street, DIRECTIONS.

This holiday season, I hope that you’ll use all of the energy that you saved to heal and create joy for yourself.


‘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.

Quick & easy: try beet bruschetta this weekend

BY: JANET CRAIG

Nothing says fall like root vegetables right? Janet Craig brings you a new take on beets – the reddest vegetable of them all – with a beet bruschetta recipe that will blow your mind!

The easiest way to do this recipe is with canned beets, but if you like them fresher, check out these ways how to cook beets, HERE.

Beet Brushetta

Ingredients
  • 2/3 cup of balsamic vinegar reduced down to 1/3 cup in small saucepan on medium heat until syrupy. Find out how, HERE
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 can of beets drained & chopped
  • Feta cheese or goat cheese
  • Bread for toasting, baguettes work well
Directions:
Combine ingredients. Place on toasted bread with crumbled goat cheese or feta. Grill under broiler and serve.

Satisfied Soul

 

 

 

 

 

Chef Janet Craig recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly. You can find out more about her HERE.

 

How I graduated from university after my TBI

BY: MARIA LISCIO

Out of nowhere things can change and make you feel as though everything you’ve worked so hard for doesn’t matter. That happened to me the summer before my last year of university when I was struck by a car, as a pedestrian, on my way to work.

I do not remember anything about what happened, other than leaving my house and then waking up in the hospital in an enormous amount of pain. I had severe traumatic brain injuries, including a concussion, brain bleeding and brain bruising.

Until this time, I always focused on achieving high grades in school. I pushed myself to excel in every course I took. I majored in psychology at Ryerson University with a full course load every year. Although it was challenging at times, I worked hard and landed on the dean’s list.

I did not realize the extent of my injuries until I returned home from the hospital. Doctors, social workers, family and friends, said I should take the year off school to recover. I was completely taken aback. I thought, “How could I possibly take the year off? This is my last year and I want to apply to masters programs in a few months!”

Empty University Lecture hall
PHOTO VIA PEXELS

School was one of the most important things in my life and I being told I shouldn’t go back threw me off guard.

I learned I had a mild cognitive impairment, which caused problems with focus, concentration, and writing. I noticed my writing difficulties right away, I spelled words incorrectly and my sentences didn’t make sense. I was devastated.

How could I go from being a straight A student, to not being able to spell words correctly?

Even after hearing everyone’s advice, I did not want to listen. I was determined to go back to school, maintain my high average and graduate on time, no matter what. And let me tell you, it was extremely hard.

I told all of my professors about my situation the first week of classes. They were all very understanding and told me if I ever needed extra time with an assignment or extra help, to let them know. During this time, I was still attending frequent doctor, therapist and specialist appointments. Trying to manage everything took a huge toll. I broke down many times and cried because I could not focus, I could not remember the topics I was studying, and my essays did not make sense.

Fortunately, my friends and family were always there for me during my struggles, helping me and making sure I was getting enough rest.

Woman studying with her head in her hands
PHOTO via PEXELS

Due to my injuries, my fatigue levels were very low.  I took a nap almost every day after school, before starting my homework, in fact, I scheduled them in. Without enough rest, I couldn’t focus and concentrate on what I needed to do.

However, there was one time in particular where I knew I had to persevere and prove myself. It was during one of my mandatory psychology classes, and the material was so different from the majority of my other classes. I was very confused, so I asked my professor for help. He tried to help me, however, he also told me that if I didn’t understand, I should drop the class.

I was furious! Drop the class? Not graduate this year? There was absolutely no way I was letting that happen! That comment made me realize that just because you don’t understand something, does not mean you should give up. I studied long hours, and, as always, I took naps when I needed to. I made sure I ate enough to fuel my body. I continued visiting my professors and asking for help, and I spent a tremendous amount of time working on essays.

I wanted to prove to myself and others that my brain injuries, and the struggles caused by them, do not define me and what I am able to do.  

Before my accident, I had worked part-time at a grocery store for almost six years. Initially after my accident, I did not work for three or four months so I could adequately recover. Then I tried going back to work but I could not manage it. I experienced extreme fatigue and dizziness from standing during my shifts. Even though it was unintentional, I also felt as though some people did not understand the extent of my brain injuries because they were not something anyone could physically see.

Working and being a student was something I could no longer do. I was trying so hard in school, and it was time consuming. I resigned my position to focus solely on my studies.

Through all of my battles, I managed to yet again get straight A’s. I have never been so proud of myself and what I was able to achieve, despite the circumstances. However, my most proud moment was achieving 90% in none other than, the psychology class I was told I should drop.

I graduated university that year, with honours, making the Dean’s List and most importantly making myself proud of this achievement.

I am now working for a health care clinic and I am still planning on applying to masters programs in the future. I continue to experience more fatigue than I am used too, and some difficulties in writing and focusing.

Even with these difficulties, I am going to try and preserve as best as I can.


Maria Liscio is an ABI survivor who is working towards a career in health care. She currently works at a health care clinic that assists many individuals with ABI. Maria uses her personal experience to connect with others facing life’s challenges, and strives to encourage positivity.  Follow her on Instagram at @maria.liscio.

 

 

 

 

Community Meeting Recap: Osteopathy with Osteopathic Manual Practitioner Riki Richter

May’s Community Meeting featured Osteopathic Manual Practitioner Ricki Richter who came to talk to us about mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) through an osteopathic and movement lens.

About Riki Richter

  • Riki is an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner and Movement Based Rehabilitation Instructor at Synergy Sports Medicine in Toronto.
  • She has been a Pilates and Yoga instructor for over 20 years!
  • She sustained a brain injury when she was seven years old and was at SickKids for a week.
  • She lives with two cats and two lovebirds.
  • To learn more, you can visit Riki’s website: https://www.rikirichter.com/
Riki
Riki Richter

What is Osteopathy?

  • Osteopathy is a form of manual therapy with the goal of maximizing health by treating the source of dysfunction in the body.
  • Osteopathic practitioners combine their extensive knowledge of anatomy and the inter-relationships between body systems, while utilizing gentle hands-on techniques to improve health.

How Osteopathy may help mTBI symptoms

Following mTBI, it’s common to experience headaches, neck and shoulder pain and muscle weakness, among many other symptoms. There are a few simple and non-invasive osteopathic techniques which may make these symptoms more bearable.

First, let’s jump into the physiology behind the techniques. If you want to skip the science, scroll to the bottom of the post for five simple exercises.

Breathing & Its Effect on the Body

Blood Flow and the Brain

  • Breathing affects blood flow throughout the body.
  • Using the diaphragm (the primary muscle that controls breathing) with a directed inhalation is the most efficient way to breathe.
  • During a directed inhalation, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord) moves up to the brain, bringing nutrients and clearing waste.
  • Maximizing this flow of CSF can decrease headache severity!
Image via: Medicine Plus

The Lymphatic System

  • The lymphatic system functions to maintain fluid balance within the body and also plays a role in immune system function.
  • During shallow breathing, there is less movement of the lymphatic fluid.
  • The heart and pelvis have the deepest lymphatic systems within the body and they are completely dependent on breathing and movement to flow.
  • We know sleep is important, but did you know that the lymphatic system is responsible for 60 per cent of increased drainage during sleep? This means that the body is clearing out more waste while you are (hopefully)sleeping!
body
Image via hartfordhealthrehabnetwork.org 

5 Simple Exercises

 1. 3D Breathing Exercise

Purpose:

Generally, most people breathe into their chest or maybe breathe into their belly. While belly breathing is seen as more ideal compared to simply breathing into the chest, 3D breathing helps with posture and improves body system flow. With practice, this will become second nature and may even minimize the severity of headaches!

Method: 

  1. Sitting tall in a chair or standing with good posture, bring awareness to how you breathe by holding a stretching band or towel placed around your ribcage just below the sternum.
  2. Inhale and feel the strap expand as the ribcage moves out to the sides and back.
  3. Exhale, keeping the strap tight while breathing all the way out.
  4. Focus on keeping the breath slow and silent.
2. Tight Neck/Poor Sleep Exercise

Purpose:

To improve poor sleep or tight upper two vertebrae.

Method:

  1. Sit at a table placing the right elbow on the tabletop.
  2. Place the right thumb under the right cheekbone.
  3. Lean head into thumb and allow the thumb to slide up the side of your face to the ear.
  4. Repeat on left side.
3. Shoulder Exercise:

Purpose:

To loosen tight shoulders.

Method:

  1. Place fingers up and under collarbone (see picture below to help locate the collarbone).
  2. Add some pressure by placing the opposite hand on the wrist.
collarbone
Photo Via Healthlinkbc.ca  

Neck Exercise

Purpose:

To strengthen neck muscles to prevent the feeling of the head falling backwards.  

Method:

  1. Sit with good posture, looking down so the nose is down and base of the skull is up.
  2. Maintaining the position of the head, move the neck so the head moves lightly back, giving the appearance of a double chin.

Posture Exercise

desk
PHOTO VIA absolutehealthcentre.com

Purpose:

To improve circulation to and from the brain.

Method:

  1. Sit straight and allow the head to float over the ribcage and the ribcage to float over the pelvis.
  2. Inhale slowly through the nose using the 3D breathing technique (Simple Exercise 1) and exhale allowing the ribcage to recoil.
  3. Continuing to breathe, shift body weight forward so sit bones almost come off the chair.

Osteopathic College Student Clinic

Are you interested in seeing an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner but have a tighter budget?  The Canadian College of Osteopathy holds a student clinic where you can be treated by a student overseen by an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner. Find more information about the student clinic, HERE


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.

 

 

Glazed beans on toast

BY: JANET CRAIG

Beans on toast may be a hardcore British comfort food, but that doesn’t mean we can’t glam up the traditional dish on our side of the pond. Here’s Janet Craig’s take on a UK classic – and no worries mate – you’ll be chuffed at how easy this is to make!

Easy Fall Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 can white kidney / cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 2 bay leaves,
  • ½ cup white wine ( I use Vermouth)
  • Salt and  pepper, parsley to garnish
  • 2 slices whole grain bread
  • 2 tsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp honey or maple syrup
  • For meat eaters: 4 slices of bacon or grilled pancetta

Directions

  1. Lightly sauté onion and garlic in 1 tbsp oil until translucent
  2. Add the rinsed beans to the pan with wine & seasonings. Turn up the temperature  on medium to simmer until wine is evaporating.
  3. Toast the bread & spread with butter & honey or maple syrup
  4. Plate the now glazed beans on toast topping with as much bacon as desired.

 

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

You can find out more about her HERE.

Satisfied Soul

Community Meeting Recap: Ocutherapy with Alex Theodorou

BY: JULIA RENAUD

BIST’s August Community Meeting was an Ocutherapy demonstration with Alex Theodorou.

Picture of Community Meeting Speaker Alex Theodorou, Founder & CEO of Ocutherapy.
Alex Theodorou

 About Alex

  • Alex’s father sustained a stroke in 2005, changing the lives of him and his family forever.
  • This event lead Alex to pursue a master’s degree in neurolinguistics from McMaster University. He wanted to find a way to improve the lives of people living with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) and other cognitive difficulties.
  • In 2016, Alex came up with the idea of Ocutherapy, a Toronto-based Virtual Reality (VR) program aimed at improving speed of recovery for individuals in post-acute care rehabilitation programs. The company was launched in 2018 and its momentum is strong.

Ocutherapy uses virtual reality to bring together patient and practitioner to inspire, motivate, and educate in the recovery journey. [It] offer[s] interactive experiences that make the healing process both engaging and intuitive.

 Health care and brain injury

  • ABI is one of the most common neurological conditions.
  • Treating ABI can be costly to the health care system and patients may receive limited treatment.
  • Limited care, high drop-out rates, and potential for re-injury can leave patients feeling defeated.

Clip art of a person in a science lab, with seekers, computers and lab equipment

 Features of Ocutherapy:

Patient-centered

  • The program learns from the user to determine the level of difficulty.
  • It tailors its exercises to help train the areas of the brain and skills that are most important to each individual.
  • A check-in is included at the end of each game to get feedback about how the user felt the game went.

Utilizes a connected rehabilitation approach.

  • Data can be easily accessed by health-care workers to better track the progress of each patient.

Beneficial and fun!

  • There are different tasks involved with each game allowing the individual to stave off boredom while focusing on key areas of the brain.
  • Works on fine motor movements and can enhance quality of life.

Accessible

  • The virtual reality headset and controller make Ocutherapy portable, improving access to care.
  • The headset can be worn with or without glasses.
  • The headset also utilizes bone conduction technology. This permits the user to hear the sound without having their ears covered and, if you aren’t the wearer, you don’t hear any of the sound at all, which is very cool!

Intuitive

  • Since Ocutherapy throws away the traditional method of therapy*, it learns from the user and adapts the program accordingly all while tracking progress.

*For me this involved the wall clock, laser and stick pointers, tones of papers and tape everywhere to name only a few. Also, if I never had to see the letter ‘A’ again, I would be completely fine with that!

Who could benefit from Ocutherapy?:

  • Ocutherapy aims to improve speed of recovery for individuals in post acute care rehabilitation programs.
  • Benefiting individuals include those who have experienced or continue to experience effects from:
      • ABI
      • Neurodegenerative disease (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s)
      • Aging
  • Ocutherapy may aid with memory, attention, spacial orientation, brain fog, and mood, to name a few.
  • Due to the nature of the VR device, Ocutherapy may not be ideal for individuals with:
      • Visual impairment that cannot be corrected by glasses.
      • Motor impairment affecting the hands.

Why haven’t I heard about Ocutherapy before?

  • Ocutherapy is in its early stages and is in the midst of being trialed and tweaked.
  • Early testing has been conducted; however, Alex and his team continue to adapt the program, improving its accessibility, technology, and ease of use.

Want more info about Ocutherapy?

  • Check out the official website: www.ocutherapy.com where you can meet the team, read articles about Ocutherapy and watch Alex’s Tedx Talk.
  • Have any ideas, suggestions, or questions? Alex and his team would love to hear from you!

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.