Researchers to study the brain health of victims of domestic violence

New research is set to begin to investigate the lifelong consequences of domestic violence on brain health.

The Drake IPV Study - led by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, and funded by The Drake Foundation - will examine individuals exposed to domestic abuse, many of whom currently report a history of traumatic brain injury.

The research - overseen by Professor Willie Stewart, who leads multiple collaborative research programmes exploring outcomes from traumatic brain injury - recognises the growing awareness of the association between brain injury and increased risk of neurodegenerative disease, including dementia.

Domestic abuse - or intimate partner violence - is common, with global estimates suggesting approximately 30% of women over age 15 years will have been exposed to physical or sexual intimate partner violence. However, there remains a lack of research in this issue, in particular the long-term consequences for those affected.

Recognising this, The Drake Foundation has awarded funding to this important new study. The Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation supporting research into traumatic brain injury, including sports-related head injuries. As with the Foundation’s research in sport associated head injuries, it is expected that this new study will contribute a wider understanding of brain injury and its outcomes across society.

Willie Stewart, Consultant Neuropathologist and Honorary Professor at the University of Glasgow, said: "There is a need for robust investigations to better understand brain health outcomes following domestic abuse.

"Traumatic brain injury is one important risk factor contributing to risk of dementia, but there has been remarkably little research looking at the potential lifelong outcomes of trauma from intimate partner violence."

The Drake IPV Study will access unrivalled datasets from the internationally regarded PREVENT Dementia Programme led by Professor Craig Ritchie from the University of Edinburgh.

Prof Craig Ritchie, Chair of the Psychiatry of Ageing and Director of the Centre for Dementia Prevention at the University of Edinburgh, said: "The PREVENT Dementia Programme always sought to understand the contribution of all risk factors for later life dementia and while it is now well known that head injury affects the risk of dementia, we also need to understand the source of that head injury to be able to work effectively to prevent and manage this effectively.

"This funding is so critical in bringing intimate partner violence out of the shadows in terms of dementia risk."

The researchers will look for any neuroimaging changes in the brains of individuals with a history of domestic abuse, as well as any changes that correlate with measures of exposure to traumatic brain injury, and compare these to population controls with no reported history of abuse.

Lauren Pulling, Drake Foundation’s CEO, said: "The Drake Foundation is proud to be funding this new study into this largely under-researched area.

"With 30% of women globally estimated to be exposed to IPV at some point in their lives, this is a critical area of research. We hope that the Drake IPV Study will not only advance our knowledge of brain health in both IPV survivors and the general population, but also help to reduce the stigma around domestic abuse by bringing it into the open."

Related Links

Prof Willie Stewart - research profile

Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology

College of MVLS

The Drake Foundation

PREVENT study at University of Edinburgh


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