Community Meals & Concussions

The 2014 Vancouver Homeless Survey reported that 80% of Vancouver’s most vulnerable people have one or more challenging health conditions. If we surveyed guests at different community meals, the statistics would be similar. One common and likely under-diagnosed challenge is concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s).

Individuals recovering from head injuries may report:

There are ups & downs in the recovery process
It can take a long time to get back to their pre-injury self
They have to limit the events they attend, and limit time in public spaces
Visual & auditory stimulation can cause headaches, frustration, inability to focus, forgetfulness, fatigue, etc.

Things we can do for participants of community meals:

Watch for people who display the symptoms & allow them to take a break in a quiet space or pack food to go. Many meals are set-up to encourage people to eat together, not to be a take-out restaurant, but I am relaxing my stance on that as I learn more about the prevalence & severity of head injuries.
Keep noise to a reasonable level, including dishwashers, machines, music & too many people in a room at once. Background music can set a good tone, but can also be excessively stimulating. Ask for ongoing feedback from guests.
If able, designate quieter areas in large dining spaces for people who need or prefer less noise. A simple sign or vase of flowers could be used to indicate the quiet spaces.
Have volunteers especially trained to watch for participants who seem to disengage or become agitated during a community meal. Encourage 1-to-1 conversations with that individual, which are often easier to follow than a whole table discussion.
Ensure there is adequate lighting, but no direct light shining in someone’s eyes (i.e. broken light covers).
Clean up spills immediately to prevent slips & falls.
Encourage guests to seek medical help if they complain of ongoing symptoms, or if you notice distressing personality changes.
Continue to educate yourself and your team about head injuries. Healthlink BC or the Centre for Disease Control are good places to start.

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