People with acquired brain injury (ABI) often experience difficulty with memory, which can prevent them from living an independent life.

Typically, they may forget to attend appointments, miss medication and neglect self-care. Assistive technology, such as a smartphone calendar app, can help memory by prompting the user of their future intentions at a set time (Gillespie, Best and O’Neill, 2011).

There is good evidence that technology which prompts in this way is more effective at supporting memory than paper diaries and calendars (Jamieson, Cullen, McGee-Lennon, Brewster and Evans, 2014).

Recently, the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust (BIRT)'s service Graham Anderson House investigated the use of Smartphone reminders by people with acquired brain injury. Two apps named ‘ForgetMeNot’ and ‘ApplTree’ were developed and used by participants during the studies.

'ForgetMeNot’ was used by three people in a study lasting seven weeks. Participants often forgot everyday tasks like doing their laundry, attending vocational appointments and asking the nurse for their medication. They were likely to benefit from reminders, but their memory and cognitive difficulties meant they often failed to set the reminders for themselves.

Researchers wanted to find out if regular automatic prompts from ‘ForgetMeNot’ (which prompted, ‘Do you need to set any reminders?’ up to six times a day) could encourage people to set more reminders and therefore remember more everyday events.

The trial's results indicate that automatic prompting from the app may help to increase the number of reminders set by the user. However, two of the participants found it annoying to constantly receive reminders. This is a promising start and more research is being carried out to find out how service users can benefit from this type of intervention.

It is important that people can use the device easily to set a coherent reminder. This may be difficult if people have cognitive difficulties and / or very little experience with technology, so ‘ApplTree’ was designed after reviewing with this in mind. The key feature is that, in contrast to calendar based reminder apps, only a small amount of information is presented on each screen to reduce demand on memory and attention.

The app was used by 14 participants with acquired brain injury to set reminders about medication, household tasks and social events. The speed and accuracy with which they could use ApplTree’ to set the reminders was measured. The same group also used a reminder app with a more commonplace design - ‘Google Calendar’- to set the same reminders, and performance with the two apps was compared. The results showed people took the same amount of time to set the reminders with both apps, but were more accurate when using ‘ApplTree’. This demonstrates that altering smartphone app design can help improve assistive technology accessibility, making it easier to use for people with acquired brain injury and giving them more independence.

References:

  • Gillespie, A., Best, C., & O'Neill, B. (2011). Cognitive function and assistive technology for cognition: A systematic review. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 18, 1-19.
  • Jamieson, M., Cullen, B., McGee-Lennon, M., Brewster, S., & Evans, J. J. (2014). The efficacy of cognitive prosthetic technology for people with memory impairments: A systematic review and meta-analysis.Neuropsychological rehabilitation,24(3-4), 419-444.