Head injuries: investigating the benefits of memory training | Children's Charity

Head injuries: investigating the benefits of memory training

This research was completed on 31 March 2017

Published on 22 November 2011

Each year in the UK, around three children in every 1,000 suffer a head injury that is so bad they have to be hospitalised for at least 24 hours.1 Sadly, these injuries, known as traumatic brain injuries, are a major cause of disability and can limit children’s future prospects. Dr Anna Adlam, from the University of East Anglia, is investigating whether a computerised training programme, which is designed to boost working memory, can help improve these children’s lives.

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Head injuries are a major cause of disability in children. Children under five and young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are particularly at risk. Road accidents and falls are common causes of these injuries, which are known by medics as traumatic brain injuries and result from force to the head.

“Advances in emergency care mean that most children now survive a traumatic brain injury,” explains Dr Anna Adlam. “However, children can go on to suffer long-term, even life-long difficulties – their social skills, emotions, behaviour and performance at school can all be affected. When they grow up, they can even be at increased risk of substance misuse, mental health difficulties, unemployment and criminal behaviour.”

It can also impact the children’s families too. Caring for a child who has survived a head injury can be difficult. Siblings and parents are at increased risk of mental health difficulties and marital breakdown.

Unfortunately, it is far from clear how best to help. “We lack good evidence and guidance on appropriate treatments for children who have suffered head injuries,” says Dr Adlam. “There is an urgent need to identify effective ways to improve the outlook for this vulnerable group of children.”

What is the project trying to achieve?

Dr Adlam is investigating whether a computerised training programme, which is designed to boost working memory, benefits children who have survived a head injury. Problems with working memory are common in these children. (Our working memory enables us to hold information in our mind when doing things like trying to solve a problem or learn something new.)

Around 45 children aged 8 to 16 who have survived a head injury are using the training programme in their homes for around 25 days. Their progress is being compared with another 45 children who are receiving training with activities that do not tax working memory.

“We aim to answer several important questions,” explains Dr Adlam. “Does this computerised training improve children’s working memory and their academic ability – their performance in maths and English? How does training affect children’s behaviour, their emotional wellbeing and the whole family’s quality of life? And could training save money for the NHS?”

What are the researchers’ credentials?

Project LeaderDr A Adlam
Project team
  • Professor L Shepstone Joint PI
  • Mr E Wilson
  • Professor S Gathercole
  • Dr J Holmes
  • Dr F Gracey
  • Dr J Limond
LocationFaculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Other locations
  • MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge
  • Cambridge Centre for Paediatric Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, Ida Darwin Hospital, Cambridge
  • Washington Singer Laboratories, School of Psychology, College of Life Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Duration3 years
Grant awarded22 August 2011
Start date1 July 2012
End date31 March 2017
Grant amount£130,818.00
Grant codeSP4649, GN1833
AcknowledgementsThis project is supported by a generous grant from The Henry Smith Charity.

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The interdisciplinary research group includes psychologists with expertise in human memory, gained both during research and while working with children who have suffered head injuries, a medical statistician and a health economist. The team has all the knowledge, skills and resources needed to make this investigation a success.

References

  1. Hawley CA et al. Prevalence of traumatic brain injury amongst children admitted to hospital in one health district: a population-based study. Brain Injury 2003; 34: 256-60.
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