Using bytes to heal the brain

Injuries to a veteran’s brain can be invisible… even when the symptoms start showing up: memory and attention issues, difficulty planning and organizing, understanding speech or complex reading materials. These symptoms aren’t like an obvious wound that needs sutures; instead, they linger in the background and infect the veteran’s well-being and re-integration. And because they wait in the background, they often wait undiagnosed and untreated.

A key mission of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation is to focus attention on those “hidden” wounds, and heal them through proper diagnosis and prompt treatment. Now, a new grant from RLF is enabling veterans in both Wood County and Akron, Ohio who suspect they are living with the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to participate in no-cost comprehensive speech/ language/ cognitive evaluations and treatment plans, which will take advantage of technology to deliver the services in part virtually, via what’s known as telehealth.

“Telehealth” uses the telecommunications technologies long used in education and business to enhance health care and health education. The US Veterans Administration stresses that using these technologies “helps ensure veteran patients get the right care in the right place at the right time,” enabling the specialist and the patient to link together where it might not be possible physically.

At the University of Akron School of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, Dr. K. Todd Houston and an interdisciplinary team have embarked on a project, in collaboration with the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, to use telehealth opportunities to help diagnose and heal veterans’ cognitive, social, and listening skills to ease the transition to post-military life. RLF’s grant will support up to 20 veterans to participate, often using video or web conferencing to deliver services in what Houston calls a “virtual therapy room.” The project has completed planning and piloting with veterans in the student community, and is about to push the services out to veterans in the UA wider community.

In Wood County, RLF has provided a grant through the Wood County Veterans Assistance Center to enable up to 20 more veterans to receive evaluations and treatment programs. Mary Hanna, Executive Director of the Veterans Assistance Center, and Donna Colcord, Clinic Director at the Bowling Green State University Speech and Hearing Clinic, have partnered to execute the grant for area veterans. The BGSU Speech and Hearing Clinic has offered similar services before, but not for veterans. The Center and the Clinic are now recruiting candidates, who may participate in the regular treatment sessions through teleconference, via a tablet, or in person.
RLF is committed to finding and removing barriers for veterans to recover from brain injuries; lack of access or exposure to appropriate health services is a common obstacle. Through these grants, new services are being defined to extend diagnosis and treatment through telecommunications, so that even the invisible wounds can be healed.