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Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust conference: an overview

Lyons Davidson’s Head Injury Team recently attended the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust (BIRT) conference, held on 21 and 22 September at the Bristol Marriott Hotel.

Entitled ‘Inspiring Learning and Innovation in Brain Injury Rehabilitation’, the conference consisted of a number of smaller workshops on a variety of different brain-injury related topics, which are outlined below.

Brain Injuries and Music

A symposium about the impact of brain injury on musical ability presented by Dr Clare Ramsden, BIRT’s Consultant in Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation, was followed by a session on how dementia affects music processing by Dr Jason Warren from the Institute of Neurology at University College London.

Both have undertaken interesting work in this area: Dr Ramsden has researched skilled musicians who have sustained a head injury, examining how their musical abilities are altered as a consequence. For example, she explored how sight-reading music places great demands on a musician’s higher level of functioning in planning and processing information. Conversely, improvisation seems to use more of their memory of music beyond immediate working memory and makes fewer demands on executive function. Dr Ramsden suggested that this seems to point to a sustained effect of musical training on cognition, and that musical training leads to cortical and white-matter plasticity, providing the musician with additional cognitive flexibility.

Dr Warren discussed his research on music in relation to different forms of dementia, and how music is a distinct cognitive domain from that of language. There is emerging evidence to suggest that there are musical signatures that can be shown on MRI for different types of dementia.

Helping families after brain injuries

Professor Jeff Kreutzer, Director of Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in the USA presented a session on practical approaches to family intervention following brain injury. His work focuses on the whole family – not just the person with the injury.

Coping with loss and change is an overwhelming challenge for many brain injury survivors and their family members. Professor Kreutzer spoke of the importance of the therapeutic relationship and normalisation, i.e. understanding that the emotional reactions of the whole family, including frustration, isolation and loss are all common problems following head injury. He also said that sharing knowledge and providing practical management advice empowers families to adjust to the long-term challenges that commonly follow brain injuries.

Technology: new prompting system in development

A workshop on the development of a prompting system was run by BIRT’s Consultant in Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation, Dr Brian O’Neill, Dr Alex Gillespie of the LSE and Dr Catherine Nest from the University of Stirling. They introduced a new computer system, called GUIDE, which they hope will be used as a ‘cognitive prosthetic’. GUIDE acts as ‘scaffolding’ for people with brain injuries that involve a higher function deficit for day-to-day tasks, such as doing laundry. The programme includes speech recognition software, which provides verbal prompts and responds to “yes” and “no” answers.

As well as the ‘how to do your laundry ‘ protocol mentioned above, the project also includes ‘morning routine’ and can also be adapted to individual needs. Once research has been carried out, the team will look at whether periodically stopping use of the software enables the user to become more independent and therefore needing less care intervention. The project has been running since 2010 and is due to conclude in 2013.

Posted on Sep 30th, 2011 by Lyons Davidson