We discuss today with Michelle Taschereau. She is the Director of Customer Experience at ABI Wellness.
Michelle, can you start off by telling us about ABI Wellness and its services?
ABI Wellness’s Brain Enhance and Recovery System (BEARS) is a proprietary program with a focus on improving cognitive functioning through capacity building and neuroplastic change. Our technology and services improve the executive functioning of individuals who have sustained a brain injury or who experience other cognitive challenges relating to injury or illness, resulting in higher return-to-work statistics and improvements in quality of life. Currently, very few opportunities are available to help this underserved population. We also recognize the labour demand in brain injury care is extensive, there is limited care standardization, varied outcomes and no measure for outcomes and engagement tracking. So, we designed the platform to address these difficulties and better serve clinicians, and their clients.
What led you to ABI Wellness and what was your experience like prior to joining the company?
I was working in the community as a support worker for individuals with brain injury. I had several regular clients whose injuries ranged from mild to severe. I knew some of my clients were capable of so much more, but we just didn’t have the tools to get them there. I felt frustrated, and I know my clients did as well. They still had dreams and goals. They wanted to live a fuller life. I came across ABI Wellness, a newly formed organization, working on improving quality of life through building brain capacity. I attended an open house. I was amazed and thrilled to see what was possible. They had the tools we had been searching for. I knew so many individuals who could benefit from this program. I immediately applied for a volunteer position to learn more, be more involved, and advocate for those in need. That led to my current position as the Director of Customer Experience.
You are a Certified Brain Injury Specialist. Why did you choose to study brain injuries?
The brain is such a fascinating organ. When my daughter was diagnosed with ASD, I felt compelled to learn more about her challenges and how I could help. I was exposed to the knowledge that the brain can change early on, so I quietly researched during my spare time. Years later, my partner suffered a moderate-severe traumatic brain injury. I became his caregiver and was forced to adapt quickly to the changes in his needs. This journey continues. I felt compelled to share my decades of knowledge and experience, so I began work as a support worker in our community. I was saddened and outraged by the lack of progress and treatment being offered. Everything was compensatory in nature. I felt compelled to learn more, in order to help more.
ABI Wellness is dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals around the globe. How does the company do this?
We became very clear on the problem that we were looking to address and solve. This problem was how to provide options for people with chronic attention, planning, organization, and memory issues in a way that was safe and could leverage the neuroplastic opportunity for long term behavioral and quality of life change. The BEARS platform is designed to meet each individual where they are at. Through assessments and SMART goals, the program is individualized and tailored to each person’s individualized needs. With guidance and support from our licensed BEARS facilitators, and dosing the program appropriately, we are witnessing clients regain their cognitive abilities and reclaim their lives. Because the program is offered virtually, we have clients participate from around the world.
In November 2021, the company partnered with Harvard University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital to improve cognitive care. What is ABI Wellness’s aim for this partnership and how will each party combine to improve cognitive care?
We are working with Brigham and Women’s Hospital on an exciting research study that will explore the impact of the ABI Wellness program on individuals with impaired cognition. The exciting part is that we are taking a wide lens to this study and keeping it open to any individuals with cognitive issues regardless of their injury or diagnosis. This will allow us to demonstrate the truly wide scoping impact this program can have for individuals regardless of whether you have had a concussion, stroke, illness or living with mental health or PTSD. Anyone can benefit from a well scaled and targeted cognitive training program and this study will allow us to demonstrate that. We are working with an amazing clinical research team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who ambitiously want to change the standard of care and this is an opportunity to do that.
What is cognitive care like currently and why is there a push to improve it?
Great efforts have been made to help to improve care, however, sadly, there is not a lot of hope for this population as resources are not available. Much of the care currently offered is compensatory in nature, meaning the focus is to work around a deficit instead of improving the function. We now know that the brain can change, however, rehabilitation practices have not caught up to this knowledge in a widespread way. We know that more is possible around recovery to brain injury, and we believe that the brain injury population and the clinicians that serve the population deserve better options to improve the outcomes of their patients. All people deserve the opportunity to improve their life.
Can you tell us about ABI Wellness’s Brain Enhance and Recovery System?
Imagine a cognitive rehabilitation system that helps you reduce wait times between screening and treatment while also reducing missed appointments and administrative load. That is what the Brain Enhance and Recovery System does. We make cognitive therapy simple for both the clinician and the patient. By streamlining the assessment to program pathway and providing a structured approach, we are able to help clinicians focus more on client care and less on reporting.
The BEARS program takes the best of evidence care and combines it into one program that is truly interdisciplinary and through our targeted approach is able to harness the brain’s innate ability to change (also known as neuroplasticity). By taking this approach we can cause lasting change that transfers into everyday activities and increased quality of life.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected ABI Wellness’s work?
With the start of the pandemic, we moved our program to be 100% virtual to better support our clients and those living with brain injury. It was critical that despite being locked down and in a pandemic that individuals continue to be able to access their care and rehabilitation. We are so proud of our team at the speed that we were able to make that switch and our incredible clients that continued to work with their patients and drive such amazing outcomes and success stories throughout this pandemic. Additionally, the pandemic has really pushed virtual or tele-health forward and allowed it to be acceptable around the world. This is a game changer for accessibility and helping individuals living in the community with brain injury.
Speaking of COVID-19, in November 2021, ABI Wellness gave a talk on the disease’s effect on the brain. What do we know about this topic and what is ABI Wellness doing about it?
Over the past 2 years, there has been an incredible increase in understanding of COVID-19 and its impact on the body. While we have made significant advances on the acute side of treatment (vaccines, anti-virals, etc), there remains a huge amount of work to be done on the chronic end. Post Acute Covid-19 Syndrome, or COVID long-haul is impacting between 10-60% of individuals following even mild infections. Featuring a wide range of symptoms that can impact every region of the body, COVID long-haul can be difficult to diagnose and even more challenging to treat. Early on it became clear that brain fog was one of the most common factors affecting individuals with COVID long-haul.
We know from our research and clinical experience that the BEARS program can help people with brain fog due to concussion, brain injury, stroke, and more. The research coming out on COVID long-haul showed that the virus seems to be causing some similar physiological issues (inflammation and restricting oxygen to the brain). Due to the sheer number of individuals in need of help and the lack of options available, we have been working with national providers, hospital systems, and non-profit groups to offer our program off-label to this population. We need programs that have shown to be effective in similar areas to be offered to this group as the risk of doing nothing and waiting for years for the research to catch up is not an option.
Is the work ABI Wellness does applicable to mental health?
The connection between mental health and cognitive health is deeply intertwined. Often individuals who are struggling with their mental health will also have trouble with their cognitive health. Unfortunately, cognitive health is not prioritized or often recognized by medical professionals and individuals are only treated for the mental health aspect. ABI Wellness wants to raise awareness around cognitive health and be part of the solution to help individuals thrive. By pairing good mental health treatment, whether that is pharmaceutical or behavioral with evidence-based cognitive health treatment, individuals can really move beyond mental health and focus on mental wellness.
Michelle, what is the future of brain injury medicine and recovery?
I am hopeful. With continued research in various areas of prevention, assessment, management, and treatment, it is my hope that the treatments catch up to the research, and each individual has access to individualized neuroplastic therapies, and can increase their independence and quality of life.
How is a day in your life?
I describe my position in the company as the ‘best job in the company’. I work daily with our Licensed Providers; I review client outcomes and I get to provide hope to caregivers or survivors who call seeking information. I witness firsthand the outcomes and results of a carefully systemized approach to treating cognitive remediation and celebrate with each program completion. Each day, we strive to add further value to both the clinicians and clients.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I love to write, since I was young. My poetry has been published twice, I have written newspaper articles and content for various websites. It is practice I include in my daily routine.
What makes you smile?
Family and friends! I am fortunate to be surrounded by so many incredible human beings, who strive to help others, and become the best version of themselves.
What scares you?
The lack of awareness. There is a great number of individuals in our communities who could live a better quality of life, be more independent, and live with hope and joy, but they may not even be aware it is possible.
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world, what would it be?
This is a very hard questions to answer. There are so many answers I could provide….
I think it would be to end needless suffering. The Tibetan monk Khenchen Knochog Gyaltshen Rinpoche once stated that there are benefits to suffering: wisdom, resilience, compassion, and a deep respect for reality. However, suffering shouldn’t last, it should be remedied. And in our world, so many individuals suffer needlessly because of a lack of accessibility, awareness, or choice.
Anything you’d like to add?
If you run a clinic, rehab center, non-profit or hospital and want to streamline the work process and standardize your services, while producing better outcomes for individuals with brain injury or cognitive issues, give us a call to learn how to become a Certified Provider.
If you’re a brain injury survivor or suffering from cognitive impairments due to disease, age, or illness, we can help by connecting you with one of our BERAS Certified Providers. There are options available. There is always HOPE.
To learn more about Michelle Taschereau and ABI Wellness, please visit https://www.abiwellness.com