Robot computer programme: boosting memory of children who have survived head injury? | Action Medical Research

Robot computer programme: boosting memory of children who have survived head injury?

19 April 2012

A research team from East Anglia, awarded a grant from children’s charity Action Medical Research, is hoping to improve the lives of children who have suffered head injuries by using a computer programme to complete tasks that tax their memory.

An on screen robot guides the children through the memory training tasks, such as remembering a sequence of numbers or locations, and they interact with the computer programme by pressing keys.

Around 45 children aged 8 to 16 who have survived a head injury will be using the training programme in their homes for around 25 days. The children’s progress is being compared with another 45 children who are receiving training with activities that do not tax working memory. Recruitment of children to take part in the study is set to begin in August 2012.*

Problems with working memory are common in children who have suffered head injuries. Our working memory enables us to hold information in our mind when doing things like trying to solve a problem or learn something new.

The research is being led by Dr Anna Adlam from the University of East Anglia, Norwich working with colleagues from the Cambridge Centre for Paediatric Neuropsychology Rehabilitation and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge. The team has been awarded £130,818 over three years by the Action Medical Research to carry out the study.

Dr Adlam said: “We aim to answer several important questions, such as; 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?”

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. Sadly, these injuries, known as traumatic brain injuries, are a major cause of disability and can limit children’s future prospects.

“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. 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.”

Dr Caroline Johnston, Research Evaluation Manager at Action Medical Research explains why the charity is committed to funding this type of research. “The possibility of using computerised techniques to improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for child victims of brain injury is cutting edge research and we look forward to the results of this project, which could bring hope to the families of children who have suffered these traumatic injuries.”

- ENDS -

NOTES TO EDITORS:

*Recruitment is planned to start in August 2012 and anyone aged 8-16 years who has survived a brain injury and is interested in taking part can contact the research team by email at: neuro@uea.ac.uk

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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E: tslater@action.org.uk
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