Healing through technology: Using bytes to heal the brain part 2

May 4th, 2018

“[This program] is a win/win situation for the vets learning strategies to improve their skills and my graduate interns who are learning how to work with individuals with PTSD/TBI.” — Donna Colcord, M.S., CCC-SLP, Clinic Director at the Bowling Green State University Speech and Hearing Clinic

A key mission of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation is to focus attention on the hidden wounds of our returning military – traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and heal them through proper diagnosis and prompt treatment. Getting that initial diagnosis is often the first hurdle to recovery, sometimes because those afflicted do not have immediate access to clinics or therapy. In Wood County, Ohio, and in Akron, teams of trained clinicians are working to close that gap, partly through a grant from RLF.

In January we told you about two initiatives enabling veterans who suspect they are living with TBI/PTSD to participate in no-cost comprehensive speech/ language/ cognitive evaluations and treatment plans. These programs, at Bowling Green State University Speech and Hearing Clinic and at University of Akron School of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, use technology to deliver some services in part virtually, via “telehealth,” enabling the specialist and the patient to link together where it might not be possible physically.

Both programs are up and running and engaging veterans to make forward progress in their diagnosis and recovery.

“The TBI/PTSD program offered at BGSU is providing treatment individually tailored to each client’s needs and includes teaching compensatory strategies to improve recall skills,” said Donna Colcord, M.S., CCC-SLP, Clinic Director at the Bowling Green State University Speech and Hearing Clinic. “These strategies include teaching the client to utilize multiple ways -auditory, verbal, visual and tactile – to improve their recall of information.” Such strategies include methods like visualization, repetition, and breaking down information into smaller bits.

Technology plays a part via support and reminders to accompany these strategies. “The use of notebooks for written reminders, use of whiteboards to list important tasks, use of smartphones, Siri, and so on, are all supports that can be helpful in increasing recall skills,” said Colcord.

Meanwhile, at University of Akron, a structured, 10-week program known as Compensatory Cognitive Training focuses on issues such as managing fatigue and tension, attention and concentration, problem solving and planning. While this program has been in use at several Veterans Administration Medical Centers (VAMC) for some years, the implementation at UA is the first in a university setting. Additionally, “the telehealth connection between the UA Audiology and Speech Center and the Cleveland VA Hospital is now complete, which will allow veterans on campus to connect directly with staff at the hospital,” said Janis Lorman, M.A., CCC-S/A, Visiting Assistant Professor of Instruction at UA School of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. “Our program continues to coordinate with the UA Office of Accessibility to provide study skills as well as other accommodations as needed.”

The impact of increasing access to diagnosis and treatment has been concrete.

“Individuals with TBI and/or PTSD often have difficulty with immediate and short term recall skills, which impact their ability to complete daily activities completely or in a timely manner,” said Colcord. At Bowling Green, 3 of 4 veterans enrolled in the program are attending consistently and reporting positive results. “Improving recall skills increases the client’s confidence and ability to handle day to day tasks, which improves quality of life for that individual and their loved ones.”

At University of Akron, 2 of 4 student veterans initially enrolled in the program have completed it, while 2 others are continuing. “Both of these student veterans have integrated organization strategies into their lives,” said Lorman. “They have both given high ratings to the CCT program, finding the strategies ‘extremely helpful;’ one veteran stated she had ‘less forgotten appointments’ and ‘better schedule management.’”

“The pilot phase launched with veterans currently on campus at UA. However, this spring we will continue to do outreach to recruit more veterans from the university and surrounding community. The goal is to offer a range of services in the UA Audiology and Speech Center: individualized therapy, group therapy, telepractice, and coordinated telehealth sessions with the Cleveland VAMC.”

Donna Colcord at BGSU notes that “the program for our vets is running smoothly this semester and we are planning on continuing throughout the summer sessions at the University. It is a win/win situation for the vets learning strategies to improve their skills and my graduate interns who are learning how to work with individuals with PTSD/TBI.”

RLF is committed to finding and removing barriers for veterans to recover from brain injuries. Through these grants, new services are being defined to extend diagnosis and treatment through telecommunications, so that even the invisible wounds can be healed.