PhD ponderings in the realms of Traumatic Brain Injury and Twitter



Getting started in the world of PhD candidature this year has been invigorating, this blog aims to catalogue and share the discoveries along my path towards learning more about the research world. Currently refining research methodology, seeking ethical approval and continuously searching the literature.

PhD Research Topic

Twitter use by people with communication disabilities post traumatic brain injury (TBI).


Bronwyn Hemsley, The University of Newcastle (primary supervisor)
Leanne Togher, The University of Sydney
Stephen Dann, Australian National University
Stuart Palmer, Deakin University



It is proposed that this project will align itself with the funded DECRA research ‘TweetReach’ being conducted by Dr Bronwyn Hemsley at the University of Newcastle (commencing 2014-17). The ‘TweetReach’ research aims to examine the impact of training adults with communication disabilities (specifically targeting populations of adults with communication difficulties as a result of lifelong disabilities of Cerebral Palsy; aphasia post stroke; and neurodegenerative ALS) to use Twitter, and barriers and facilitators to successful use to increase information exchange in this vulnerable group.

In addition to these identified populations, teenagers and adults with communication disabilities resulting from traumatic brain injury (TBI) face similar challenges in accessing information independently and engaging effectively in social networks1. There is an ever growing mass of literature examining the use of social media in health care, there is however limited knowledge of its use, benefits and limitations within the realm of communication disabilities. Whilst there is emerging literature for TBI in social media specifically relating to concussion2, 3, 4, there is currently no known research focussing on the use of social media for teenagers and adults with communication difficulties post TBI, nor studies evaluating the provision of training in social media and its effect on participant abilities to effectively access information and engage socially.


The aims of this project are to:

a)      Investigate young people with TBI’s and their parents/partners/spouses’ views and experiences on the use, benefits and limitations of Twitter, and barriers and facilitators to its successful use

b)      Evaluate the efficacy of providing an online training module on using Twitter for the target population – teenagers and young adults with TBI. The PhD candidate will teach teenagers and young adults with communication difficulties post TBI to use Twitter for information and engagement via the development of:

  1. An online training module for the target population and their significant others (e.g. spouse, parent, friend)
  2. Policies and clinical practice guidelines to assist clinicians working with target population

c)       Evaluate the use of Twitter by the target population following online training intervention.

Expected outcomes, significance or rationale

To date, there is no published speech pathology evidence of social media Twitter use for consumers or professionals in the TBI population with communication difficulties. This project is therefore unique as it aims to establish a baseline for current use of Twitter as a social media within this population and evaluate the implementation of a training program on use of Twitter for information exchange and engaging within social networks in this population. It is anticipated that publications arising from this research will also inform future investigations into the use of Twitter and potentially other social media within the TBI population and how best to incorporate functional, everyday aspects of communication (such as social networking) into rehabilitation programs to improve outcomes for teenagers and adults post TBI, as well as reducing dependence and burden on their significant others.


  1. McDonald S, Togher L, & Code C (Eds.). (2013). Social and Communication Disorders Following Traumatic Brain Injury. Psychology Press.
  2. Ahmed OH, Sullivan SJ, Schneiders AG, & Mccrory P (2010). iSupport: do social networking sites have a role to play in concussion awareness?. Disability & Rehabilitation32(22), 1877-1883.
  3. Sullivan SJ, Schneiders AG, Cheang CW, Kitto E, Lee H, Redhead J, Ward S, Ahmed OH, & McCrory PR (2012). ‘What’s happening?’A content analysis of concussion-related traffic on Twitter. British journal of sports medicine46(4), 258-263.
  4. Ahmed OH, Sullivan SJ, Schneiders AG, & McCrory PR (2012). Concussion information online: evaluation of information quality, content and readability of concussion-related websites. British journal of sports medicine, 46(9), 675-683.