NIHR funds University study to support families after Traumatic Brain Injury

23 November 2022

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the research partner of the NHS, has awarded £140,000 funding to conduct a study to determine whether storytelling (specifically, the ‘Life Thread’ approach) can support the wellbeing and adjustment of family members after Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

The study, led by Dr Charlie Whiffin, Associate Professor of Nursing, is the first funded by the NIHR with a Chief Investigator from the University of Derby. Dr Whiffin is supported in her role by co-lead applicant Dr Fergus Gracey (University of East Anglia), co-applicants, Dr Caroline Ellis-Hill (Bournemouth University), Dr Alyson Norman (University of Plymouth) and, importantly, two family members (Patient and Public Representatives). Dr Natasha Felles, Lecturer in Psychology, also from the University of Derby, is a named collaborator on the grant.

Traumatic Brain Injury is a sudden injury to the brain commonly caused by falls and collisions. Those who survive tend to experience a wide range of difficulty including physical, cognitive, behavioural, and emotional changes. The impact of TBI on the survivor’s family can be significant and there is a need for more research to help families understand how their lives have changed, as Dr Whiffin explained:

“While there is growing recognition of the importance of family members in the recovery pathway for the injured person, there is not enough attention given to how brain injuries change the lives of the uninjured members. This study will consider if a storytelling approach can be used to help family members make sense of their experiences and promote positive adjustment post-TBI.”

Storytelling techniques can improve wellbeing and promote growth and have been used as a support mechanism in brain injury populations but not their families. Therefore, a key outcome of this study will be to determine perceived benefits and help the researchers design a larger study to test whether these benefits can be measured. 

Dr Whiffin said:

“It was essential to the success of this project that we worked collaboratively with family members, leading academics and practitioners, and one of the reasons the application was so strong, and ultimately successful, was due to this team approach. By involving patients and the public, we could also be more confident that the proposal would benefit this group and have maximum impact.”

Commenting on the funding award, Dr Denise Baker, Pro Vice-Chancellor Dean of the College of Health, Psychology and Social Care at the University of Derby, said:

"The College of Health, Psychology and Social Care strongly believes that hearing from service users and carers can only strengthen our own and students' understanding of the reality of Traumatic Brain Injury and its impact. We are delighted that the importance of this collaborative work has been recognised in this way."

In addition to her academic role, Dr Whiffin is also Chair of Anchor Point, a special interest group driving change to improve the lives of families after brain injury. She adds: “I am proud to have the support of Anchor Point on this project and hope this study will help drive the evidence base forward for this particularly vulnerable population.”  

The study will begin in March 2023 and run for 18 months.

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, by:

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

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