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UNB research focuses on life satisfaction after traumatic spinal cord injury

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Jun 26, 2020

Category: UNB Saint John

A study, conceived and designed by a University of New Brunswick PhD candidate, is examining the perceptions and reality of life satisfaction following traumatic spinal cord injuries.

“An Examination of Life Satisfaction Following Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury Induced Quadriplegia and Paraplegia: Comparing Society’s Expectations to Patient Reported Life Satisfaction” was designed by PhD candidate Derek Gaudet. It is being carried out in collaboration with UNB experimental psychologist Dr. Lisa Best and Horizon Health Network neurosurgeons Dr. Najmedden Attabib and Dr. George Kolyvas, with support from the Canada East Spine Centre.

“Our perception of what life could be like after a traumatic spinal cord injury can be very different from the reality. We believe there is value in understanding the accuracy of people’s beliefs about what it is like to live with a spinal cord injury,” says Mr. Gaudet.

“Life satisfaction is a global measure used in psychology; it is how we measure how happy someone is with their life,” says Dr. Best. “Quality of life is often used to measure overall well-being in people with traumatic spinal cord injury; however, we have found that satisfaction with life isn’t perfectly predicted by quality of life.”

The research project has two aims: to improve the lives of people with traumatic spinal cord injury and to help inform professional practice.

“Spinal cord injury can happen to anyone,” says Mr. Gaudet. “We believe that the specific beliefs that people hold about what it would be like to live with spinal cord injury could inform us about concerns that are present in the initial days of dealing with such an injury. This could allow professionals to better address those concerns.”

Collaborator Dr. Attabib is a principal investigator with the Praxis Spinal Cord Injury Registry, a resource which holds data on 8,000 patients from across Canada. “We designed the study around the measures that were being used in the Praxis registry so that we could make direct comparisons between this group’s experience and the perception of the general public,” explains Mr. Gaudet.

“We are still analyzing the data but some of our early results show an unexpected severity in the drop in life satisfaction that the general population thought would be experienced following a traumatic spinal cord injury,” says Mr. Gaudet. “We suspect that this drop is not so dramatic in the patient population, but the fact that the general population reported such a severe perceived decrease in life satisfaction could contribute to the initial psychological reaction to such an injury.”

The analysis is ongoing, but the group have already had the opportunity to present some of their findings at both local and international conferences.

The project forms an important part of Mr. Gaudet’s PhD.

“Throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, I have been fortunate to have had several opportunities to engage in research that is outside of my current personal research interests,” he explains. “Everything from psychopharmacology using animal models and methods to how psychology plays a role in politics and health. I believe that the experience gained from these additional research opportunities makes us more well-rounded researchers, allowing us to learn how to approach various research problems from different angles.”

The research team has been named Researcher of the Month for April 2020 by the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation. Funding for the research project was provided through the Fund for Innovative Research Excellence, sponsored by the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation.

Media contact: Kelsey Pye