CHICAGO — Loss of memory, trouble concentrating and an unstable
mood are among the indicators of traumatic brain injury and a research focus of
Dorothy Kozlowski, a neuroscientist at DePaul University. Kozlowski’s research
has informed her efforts in Chicago to help kids protect their brains while
When a colleague mentioned he does similar work with victims
of domestic violence in Arizona, “bells went off” for Kozlowski. Now she is
teaming up with faculty from DePaul’s social work and game design programs to
raise awareness in Chicago about the intersection of traumatic brain injury and
“Survivors themselves don’t equate some of the issues
they’re having with memory or emotionality with the fact that they’ve probably
suffered traumatic brain injury in some way,” said Kozlowski, a Vincent de Paul
Professor of Biological Sciences and director of DePaul’s neuroscience program.
She added, “Individuals who suffer from domestic violence also have a high
propensity for concussions.”
Bringing awareness to
Sonya Crabtree-Nelson, an assistant professor of social work, and Doris
Rusch, associate professor of game design, are collaborators on the project. In
early 2018, they organized a conference that drew 120 people into packed sessions,
including local police, health care providers, social workers and attorneys.
“It was really a diverse group of individuals who care about victims of
interpersonal violence,” said Kozlowski.
One of the keynote speakers was Jonathan Lifshitz from the University
of Arizona College of Medicine, who described how the Phoenix area has
implemented screening and care for traumatic brain injury across law
enforcement, health care and domestic violence agencies. The big takeaway?
Start small, said Crabtree-Nelson, who worked for many years as a clinical
social worker in Chicago.
“Usually we’re paying more attention to survivors’ immediate
needs like getting to safety, finding housing and counseling,” said
Crabtree-Nelson. She said Lifshitz’s presentation energized the group in
Chicago to think about ways to incorporate screening for traumatic brain injury
at the local level. The Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network is a
community partner for the project, and executive director Kathy Doherty spoke
on the panel discussion about ways to move the work forward in Chicago.
understanding of domestic violence
Rusch is bringing her skills as a game designer to the project. She works
in the Deep Games Lab at DePaul, creating games that build empathy for people
suffering from mental illness and other health issues. Rusch started by
interviewing survivors of abusive relationships at a local domestic violence organization,
Between Friends. She heard what gave them strength — like holding onto a
child’s baby sock during courtroom proceedings — as well as how it felt to be
trapped in an abusive relationship. “I have some personal experiences with
this, and I know it can happen to anyone,” said Rusch.
This spring, Rusch and her students will build a game that
mirrors the experiences that survivors shared. “The game will be about
educating young adults about healthy relationships, as well as the components
that lead to an abusive relationship,” Rusch said.
She is also designing the game to help remove some of the
stigma that survivors experience by showing family, friends and caregivers how
it feels to be trapped in an abusive relationship. “Games can help convey
experiences,” said Rusch. “They enable understanding in a powerful way
that can create dialogue and discourse,” she added.
Moving forward, the DePaul researchers have identified a
strong group of local collaborators who will decide what the next steps should
be to address the issue. “We’re just starting this in Chicago,” said Kozlowski.
“We’re trying to educate those who work with survivors, but in the future we’re
also hoping to reach those who’ve suffered abuse themselves … to let them know
that some of their symptoms could be caused by traumatic brain injury,” Kozlowski
Kristin Claes Mathews