A fish-eye view of the BIRT Conference 2015

The Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust (BIRT) launched the programme for the BIRT Conference 2017 in January, so we thought to give potential delegates a sneak preview of the themes that will be addressed by our keynote speakers...

Emotion Technology

Technological developments are always a popular topic in the media, we’ve become used to hear about health tracking watches and virtual assistants. Recently, there has even been some discussion around “affective computing”; computers that can recognise and react to human emotions. This technology has been considered for application to healthcare; for example social interactive caregiving robots and therapeutic robots (“robotherapists”).

This ‘empathetic’ technology has been employed in projects such as PARO, the therapeutic robot seal; which has been found to reduce patient stress, stimulate interaction between caregiver and patient, and to produce psychological effects such as improving relaxation and motivation. A meta-analysis carried out by Costescu and colleagues (2014) compared a group of participants who received “robotherapy” with those who did not, and found that the robot enhanced therapy was more effective than the control condition, leading to greater improvements in performance on behavioural, cognitive and subjective outcomes, including mood and pain.

Smart technology has developed greatly in terms of personal health tracking. Wearable activity trackers have been storming the health technology market, and there are, soon to be released, emotion “aware” wristbands, which use sensors to gather bio-data and, in turn, monitor our emotions throughout the day. The aim is to help improve people’s emotional well-being. This technology could change the way we support those with brain injury, allowing patients and staff to identify and monitor possible triggers of emotional outbursts, and make modifications to help regulate and manage both triggers and emotional responses.

These technological advances are of great interest to us at BIRT, as we understand the importance of the social and emotional aspects of interaction when supporting people with cognitive and behavioural problems resulting from acquired brain injury. For the first time ever, we invited a computer scientist, Dr Rosalind Picard, to be a keynote speaker at our conference. We want give our audience a chance to hear about these exciting developments in emotion technology and explore how these might be used in clinical settings.

support worker plays a memory game with service user in the therapy room at TEM House

Neurobehavioural Approach

The term neurobehavioural disability was coined by Professor Rodger Wood to describe the multitude of changes that occur following traumatic brain injury including executive dysfunction, deficits of attention, diminished insight, poor social judgement, labile mood, problems of impulse control and a range of personality changes, which can lead to serious social handicap and undermine a person’s capacity for independent social behaviour.

Neurobehavioural rehabilitation is the approach to brain injury rehabilitation adopted in BIRT. It originated in behavioural psychology, and is based on the premise that rehabilitation is a learning process that facilitates the recovery of impaired functional skills, cognitive abilities and social behaviours. The neurobehavioural approach is community based, transdisciplinary and happens post-acutely.

Professor Tom McMillan from the University of Glasgow will join us to provide an overview of neurobehavioural disability and neurobehavioural rehabilitation, and discuss its relevance in the modern day treatment of brain injury.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is the scientific study of positive emotion and wellbeing. It began with the aim of expanding the focus of psychology from helping with problems in peoples’ lives, to helping them build good lives and enable them to flourish. For example, instead of exploring how to “fix” anxiety, depression or schizophrenia, positive psychology looks for ways to build joy, optimism and courage.

Positive psychology is about well-being, contentment and satisfaction about the past, flow and happiness in the present, and hope and optimism for the future.

This approach has grown substantially since its development by Professor Martin Seligman in the 1990’s. It has obtained vast media interest for its application in recent years. Increasingly workplaces, governments and schools are investing resources in applying positive psychology approaches. The Measuring National Well-Being programme of the UK Office for National Statistics began in late 2010. Both objective and subjective measures of happiness, life-satisfaction, sense of safety, and others, are being monitored and reported bi-annually since then.

Some studies have begun to evaluate the benefits of these positive approaches in brain injury rehabilitation. For example, at BIRT we found that interventions such as recording three good things that happened each day, are helpful in reducing distress and improving wellbeing… Yet, nothing better than hearing about these developments from a World expert. Professor Jon Evans’ (University of Glasgow) keynote talk will focus on the application of positive psychology approaches to neuropsychology.