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Acquired brain injury: Apps and technology

by Shoosmiths

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There are some exciting projects around the country aimed at helping those with an acquired brain injury to use technology to plug the gaps in memory, sequencing and speak recognition.

BlackBerry devices, mobile phones, and iPhones make it easier for all of us to communicate and keep track of our lives. For those with cognitive challenges caused by acquired brain injury, technology may hold the key to a fuller rehabilitation and increased independence.

There are apps for most things now and those working with brain injured children and adults highlight that there are many programmes such as calendars, reminders and alarms that can help with the management of time without assistance from others.

In America, experts at the Georgia Institute of Technology looked at helping teenagers with acquired brain injury by using the iPod Touch on an intensive programme. Many of the students involved in the BRAIN (Bringing Rehabilitation And Injury Recovery to new levels) programme of 2010, had previously required help inside and outside the classroom.

But with the appropriate systems and time management apps, many students were able to go through the rest of their school life on their own, continuing to use iPod Touch devices for time management, downloading articles, tracking their goals, and to take pictures of things they wanted to remember.

The students also used the iPods to talk. One student's speech hadn't fully recovered after his accident, but he was able to use the vocabulary app - a text input/voice output programme - to be able to communicate verbally with his friends and teachers.

The iPod Touch is not only relatively cheap, but there's less stigma attached to an iPhone than other assisted technology. A head injured teenager doesn't stick out from his peers when he uses an iPod, and is therefore more likely to keep up with his rehabilitation.

In Scotland, staff at BIRT's Graham Anderson House, and the University of Stirling, are developing new ways of using technology to help people with acquired brain injury to become more independent.

Whilst the trial won't be complete until October 2013, the new technology, called Guide, uses computer software to help people with brain injury carry out every day tasks such as making a snack or a cup of tea, doing their washing, or following a routine at home.

Complex sequences of thought and action aren't easy for those with impaired memory and executive function, and the Guide technology works by prompting and reminding people about different steps in the process. It asks questions, for example, about whether a switch has been turned on to make something work, and uses speech recognition software to hear the yes or the no that the user replies. It will then choose the right response and is sophisticated enough to let the user take different routes to get to where they want to go.

These developments and innovations are very exciting.

Whilst not the answer to all the problems that a brain injury brings with it, every little bit helps, and the more apps and programmes that are developed the more likely it is that an individual's particular problems can be addressed and life made a little bit easier for those struggling with things that others take for granted.

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