A recent pilot study published in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation found an online-video support group could aid in the care of patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

The spectrum of symptoms TBI patients may manifest can be challenging, not only for clinicians to manage, but also for family and other caregivers. More recently, many digital health tools are addressing the needs of caregivers, whether it’s apps to track medication use or simply monitor health. Those involved in the day-to-day care of TBI patients may find this physically and emotionally demanding and a caregiver support group may offer a needed source of reprieve.

It was a relatively small study, with just 10 family caregivers of TBI patients, using the Caring for Others website. Study participants were primarily the mothers of the patients. Through this website, a private video conferencing support group was arranged. The caregivers were split into two groups of five each and they were scheduled for weekly video meetings with a clinician, for a total of 10 sessions. In addition to the video conferencing platform, the setup also included a discussion forum, a group email list, and an educational TBI handbook. Outcomes in this study were primarily focused on analyzing the various common themes that arose through the discussions between the caregivers.

Five key areas were identified: Social Marginalization, Coping with Unexpected Mood Changes, Impact of Emotional Changes on the Family, Patient’s Changing Identity & Behavior, and participant-centered outcomes (resource identification, self-efficacy, and acceptance). Subjective reporting and interviews with caregivers were also utilized to determine the impact of the support group. Caregivers, all from Ontario, Canada, found the web-based group helpful. In addition, users highlighted how the group helped them feel connected and less isolated, as participation was feasible now when it wasn’t in the past due to logistics and travel limitations.

A web-based platform that allows caregivers of traumatic brain injury patients to interact online is a great tool. Given the ubiquity of smartphones, it would be relatively easy to see this tool turned into a mobile app, allowing for easy discussion with others going through similar situations. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine a FaceTime-like application for support groups, be it for caregivers of TBI patients, or many other chronic and challenging medical conditions. This pilot study, while clearly limited in its scope and outcome measures, provides a nice basis for further investigational work on similar applications.