A pair of Ontario psychiatric researchers have received a much needed financial boost from Canada’s medical research agency to study first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research are providing close to $1 million in funding over three years to McMaster’s Margaret McKinnon and Western’s Dr. Ruth Lanius – principal investigators of the Goal Management Training project aimed at improving cognitive functioning among public safety personnel with PTSD.
The study will include a number of front-line workers including firefighters, police, paramedics, and other institutional officers currently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The trial is expected to focus on reasoning and the mental functionality of safety workers with PTSD by examining changes in the subjects when they return to work.
McKinnon says the study will also use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to observe the brain structure and brain function of safety workers and volunteers.
“What’s really novel about this approach is that we’ll be imaging the brain before and after the treatment, so we can get a sense of not only any potential changes in the structure of the brain as a result of treatment but also any changes in the way the brain functions,” said McKinnon, who is the associate professor and associate chair of research of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster.
Lanius says the new research will focus on the effects of trauma in thinking, and not the emotional consequences, such as increased irritability, connected with trauma.
“Many studies to date just look at PTSD symptoms in response to treatment, especially how those symptoms have decreased, but very few studies to date have actually looked at real-world functioning,” said Lanius, who is the associate scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute and a psychiatrist at London Health Sciences Centre.
The study is expected to examine a subject’s ability is to stay focused and avoid “absentminded” slip-ups, at work and at home.
“This can be something as simple as making a recipe to as complex as stopping and thinking before making a careless remark to a family member. Some aspects of functioning may be undervalued by treatment providers but highly valued by patients with PTSD,” Lanius said.
St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, London Health Sciences, and Homewood Health Centre in Guelph are expected to recruit candidates from across Ontario for the study.
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