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Focus on Rural Health

Changes Due to Pandemic May Make NDBIN Conference Even More Accessible in Future

Turning a Negative into a Positive

By Brenda Haugen on

NDBIN Because the 2021 virtual Mind Matters Conference was so well received, the North Dakota Brain Injury Network (NDBIN) is exploring the possibility of holding future conferences both in-person and online. Around 100 people were able to attend the 2021 conference, about the same number of attendees as in years past when the event was held in-person. But as feedback has shown, many people were able to attend because the conference was held virtually.

I have to say it was my first Mind Matters Conference, and I kind of love the commute to my kitchen table, casual attire, and the Zoom was easy to access.

"I have to say it was my first Mind Matters Conference, and I kind of love the commute to my kitchen table, casual attire, and the Zoom was easy to access," one attendee remarked.

COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 Mind Matters Conference, but NDBIN hosted this year's event via Zoom on March 25-26.

"We were happy to be able to hold it at all this year, but even more happy to see the virtual platform was well received," said Carly Endres, NDBIN outreach coordinator.

Tales from survivors proved among the most impactful of all the presentations. A survivor panel included several men who shared how they sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and the struggles and triumphs they've experienced during their recoveries. They discussed therapies that have been helpful as well as challenges they still face. Alex, one of the panelists, advised fellow survivors to stay positive.

Always try to find the sunshine in the dark cave.

"Always try to find the sunshine in the dark cave," he said.

Alex's mother, who is also his caregiver, suggested those who find themselves in her position research TBI and network with others who can guide them to the help they need.

During another presentation, Sandi Gruhot spoke about her stroke journey. A wife, mother, and registered nurse, Gruhot said she first lived in denial that she'd had a stroke that left her with a brain injury but later came to realize it was likely the second brain injury she'd sustained. The first was 20 years earlier during a water-skiing accident.

Gruhot talked about living with the fear of a second stroke happening and the realization that she was wasting precious time worrying about a future she couldn't control. Instead, she now chooses to live every day and find true purpose. She also discussed the importance of support groups and praised NDBIN for connecting survivors, offering learning opportunities through Webinar Wednesdays, and providing a wide range of other resources for survivors, caregivers, and healthcare professionals on its website.

"I really encourage you to check it out," Gruhot said.

Wendelin Hume, PhD, discussed the balance between best-case and worst-case TBI recovery scenarios. She talked about her own brain injury experiences and offered tips from her perspective. As several other presenters suggested, Hume said brain injury survivors can still continue to improve years after their injuries. She asked that healthcare providers be more encouraging and supportive, listening to their patients and letting the patients help guide their own recoveries.

Along with presenters offering information on the latest brain injury research, healthcare professionals also discussed a variety of treatments available to survivors. During her keynote on March 25, Jena Gorden, a speech-language pathologist, talked about yoga and meditation and their benefits for brain injury survivors.

The conference also looked at telerehabilitation. Nealey Hoffman, a speech-language pathologist, addressed using virtual care to promote learning following a brain injury.

This is probably something we are going to have to get used to, the use of technology, whether we like it or not.

"This is probably something we are going to have to get used to, the use of technology, whether we like it or not," she said.

Hoffman discussed the pros and cons of telerehabilitation. The pros include everything from not having to travel to being able to use objects in the clients' own homes for therapy rather than just random items pulled from a box. Cons can include Wi-Fi connectivity and insurance coverage issues for virtual appointments. Hoffman and others also showed videos of clients using teletherapy services effectively.

presenting awards
Carly Endres and Rebecca Quinn virtually
present two awards.

This year's conference included some fun activities as well, such as a virtual scavenger hunt and bingo. In addition, 2021 marked the first conference to recognize the Volunteer of the Year and Certified Brain Injury Specialist of the Year, according to NDBIN Director Rebecca Quinn. They are Sandi Gruhot and Sarah Ring, respectively.

"We wanted to establish these awards as a way of recognizing those who are vital assets and work tirelessly to improve services for individuals with brain injury in North Dakota," Quinn said.

The 2022 Mind Matters Conference is slated for March 24 and 25 at the Ramada Inn in Fargo.

"Ideally, we will offer a virtual and in-person format," Endres said. "We would like to be able to offer both formats and are exploring those options."

Brenda Haugen Brenda Haugen is the communications specialist at the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Grand Forks.