R1: Increasing Social Networking Opportunities following TBI
Principal Investigator: Margaret A. Struchen,
Co-Principal Investigator: Sunil Kothari, M.D.
- This study is a randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial of a peer mentoring program focused on increasing social interaction opportunities following TBI.
- Persons with TBI who have been successful in social integration after their injuries will be paired to those with TBI who are reporting not being happy with their level of social activity.
- Social activity levels will be compared between persons receiving peer mentoring to those of persons on the wait-list for participating in the peer mentoring.
- This study will be conducted along with the Transitional Learning Center in Galveston.
Loneliness is one of the major problems that people may experience after traumatic brain injury. Studies have shown that loss of pre-injury friendships and having fewer people in one's social circle are common problems for people with moderate to severe brain injury. Often, the family becomes the main source for social activities. Having relationships with others is of key importance to feeling like one is part of a community. Although relationships with others and participation in social activities are known to be very important, few studies have been done to look at ways to improve social integration after injury.
Peer mentoring has been used to help persons with disabilities with adjustment issues and with finding ways to access resources. Using peer mentoring to help with developing social relationships has been used in some groups. One study looked at using social mentoring to increase the number of social contacts for three individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI). The program was found to be useful for this small group. The R1 study attempted to use a social peer mentoring program for a larger number of individuals with TBI.
This project tested the usefulness of a social peer mentoring program to help improve social outcomes and decrease feelings of loneliness for persons with brain injury. Social peer mentors are people with TBI who have had a good social outcome and are interested in helping others with brain injury improve their own social outcomes.
Improving social outcomes involves:
- Increasing how often a person does social activities (including activities like going to dinner with friends, having people visit your home, talking on the telephone, or attending sports events, for example).
- Increasing the number of people that a person can do these social activities with.
This study compared how people do during and after working with a social peer mentor as compared to those who haven't had the chance to work with a mentor yet.
The two groups were compared on several things, including:
- The number of times that they've participated in social activities
- The changes in numbers of people they interact with
- Symptoms of depression
- Feelings of loneliness
- Satisfaction with life
- Implementation of a social peer mentoring program designed to reduce social isolation following TBI is extremely difficult. However, mentors and mentees who complete the program report high levels of mentor and mentee satisfaction regarding their participation in the program.
- Some mentor/mentee pairs continued to get together after the formal three-month mentoring program ended, indicating benefit from having participated in the program.
- Difficulties encountered when implementing the study indicated that there are obstacles to providing peer mentoring in an expansive geographical area such as Houston. Obstacles included limited public transportation options, reliance on family members for mentees’ participation, idiosyncratic preferences of mentors/mentees when being matched, extent of cognitive impairment in the mentees, and substantial geographical distances limiting feasibility of matches.
- Ideas for refinement and enhancement of future peer mentoring programs for persons with TBI include increased emphasis on personal characteristics of participants, greater integration of family members into the mentoring program, and greater attention to potential geographical constraints.
- Due to cognitive impairments in mentors and mentees, the amount of monitoring required to ensure success of the matches calls into questions the generalizability of this approach for increasing social networking. Future studies should explore matching of persons with injury to a social peer mentor without TBI.
- Created a manual to assist others in setting up a social peer mentor program: "Making Connections After Brain Injury: A Guide for Social Peer Mentors"