The rise of online content services has revolutionised TV viewing and music consumption in recent years. And in neuro-rehab too, it is changing approaches and patient interactions.
Leading the way in this new world order is NeuronUP – an online platform which is helping rehabilitation professionals across the globe to drive better outcomes from their patients.
The tool features more than 10,000 activities, classified into 40+ different cognitive processes and areas of occupation; with new materials released every fortnight.
CEO and founder Iñigo Fernández de Piérola set up the company based on his experiences as a neuropsychologist and his work with patients with neuro-deficits, including those caused by brain injury. In the years preceding its 2011 launch, recognition had grown of the need to carry out more ecological neuropsychological assessment (Tirapu, 2017).
There was a movement towards more “ecological, motivational and personalised content in the process of cognitive stimulation and rehabilitation”, allowing clinicians to better assess the accurate functional condition of individuals, NeuronUP states.
Cognitive functions are interrelated, and interdependent on a functional and anatomical level, the company explains.
When daily tasks are carried out, neural combinations that recruit specific neuropsychological processes to perform it are put into play.
NeuronUP’s goal is to identify these processes and design useful and relevant activities for neuropsychological rehabilitation, occupational therapy and speech language therapy.
An initial collection of materials was released in 2012, which has since evolved into a multi-faceted tool used by professionals across the globe to help patients with cognitive deficits.
But in a world where brain training ranges from mainstream fad to seriously researched approaches, Fernández de Piérola cautions that the platform is nothing without professional input.
“The material by itself does nothing. The patient is not going to improve his memory in six weeks, pressing a button on a tablet for example, he or she needs to be guided by a professional.
“If the professional is bad, the platform isn ́t going to do magic.”
Ongoing work continues among professionals using the platform, exploring the cognitive processes within specific conditions, such as MS, acquired brain injury, Parkinson’s and forms of dementia.
This research will then shape future content.
The platform, says Fernández de Piérola, is used in many different ways by professionals – often influenced by varying country-to-country approaches.
“Here in Spain we can’t tell someone in Australia how to work with their patient.
“Professionals have the ability to adapt the materials of the platform to their interventions in many different ways, always according to the needs of each specific patient.
“The platform can either be used in the clinic, or the patient can log into it from home and work through a session the professional has created ahead of time, via its ‘NeuronUP2GO’ option.
“So, there is a lot of variety in terms of how that professional wants to work and there is really no set way to use it.
“It really depends on the individual’s needs and we help to make the professional ́s job easier.”
User-friendliness is crucial in enabling patients to access intense therapy at home, whether they can do it themselves or with the assistance of family members.
“It’s created with the idea that they can log in and the materials are ready to go and they can work through that intense therapy.”
Common feedback from professionals is that the platform saves them time, enables them to better plan sessions and increases patient motivation.
“Our focus will continue to be on creating new materials. Just like Netflix is a platform for video content, we want to continue being a source for good neuro-rehab and cognitive stimulation materials. Also, we want to add extra features to compliment the platform.”
Surprisingly for an online service, these features include paper resources which many professionals still prefer to use.
But there are also advanced technical additions planned, including virtual and augmented reality content.
The company is also developing a series of content focused on the link between neuropsychology and emotion – “an underdeveloped aspect of neuropsychology,” according to Fernández de Piérola.
“It’s early days but we’re currently working on a social cognition part of this, looking at how we can move from that to something that helps people with social challenges.”
But the company says its most significant development in coming years will be implementing greater use of the 150 million+ pieces of data it has related to neuro-rehab interventions.
“We are currently analysing this data and aim to put it to use in modelling future content. We want to be able to predict cases and develop content that could help professionals to do so too.”
NeuronUP’s content is increasingly being used in research projects around the world.
Among them was a study by the University Hospital of Tenerife, presented at the European Congress of Neurology in 2018.
MS patients received 24 sessions of “computer assisted” cognitive treatment through NeuronUp. Significant improvements in verbal memory, delayed visual memory, working memory and semantic fluency were noted.
Also, MRI analysis showed a 0.7 per cent increase in the global grey matter volume in most patients.
There was also a decrease in certain problems within learning and memory processes, suggesting that cognitive therapy improves cognitive performance; and may induce structural and functional changes in the brains of MS patients (Plata-Belle et al, 2018).
The platform is currently used in over 25 countries spanning 1,000+ facilities and 4,000 professionals.
Around 40,000 patients have now had access to its content. Part of its overriding appeal, says Fernández de Piérola, is its personalised approach.
“It’s important that the content is relevant to the patient. Something that motivates them. So, we have over 10,000 activities and a lot of these can be personalised.
“For example, in a word search you could add in the name of a patient’s favourite football player, or the name of their grandchildren.
“This personalised approach extends to the provision of one-to-one webinars for professionals using the platform. It gives the client the possibility to interact with the NeuronUP team at almost any time.
“We love it when our clients interact with us. We want them to check out the new content and tell us how it is affecting their clients.
“We love to get suggestions as well, if we can create something that will be useful in your practice, we ́ll do it!”
Brain injury case study: Simon’s story
Simon’s story demonstrates that consistent support from a small, specialist team can maximize quality of life and reduce barriers to discharge home.
In August 2019, Simon was admitted to the Coach House in Northampton, a specialist residential care home for adults with acquired brain injury. He was the first service user in a brand new service from experienced care provider, Richardson Care.
He had sustained a hypoxic brain injury in 2015 following cardiac arrest, and had resided in a number of care environments following his discharge from acute rehabilitation.
He was referred to Richardson Care due to an increase in unsettled and challenging behaviours and as his current placement was no longer best-placed to meet his needs.
Simon had been increasingly isolating himself from the rest of the care home and would only engage in very limited activity with 1:1 support. He would frequently make complaints about his placement.
Goal for Placement
On admission to the Coach House, the overarching goal was to enable a safe discharge home for Simon. To enable this, further exposure to more independence would be required to appropriately risk assess and inform future care provision once at home.
This would provide information as to whether his previous environmental restrictions within care homes were preventing his progression or whether his needs were more enduring.
Intervention and Support
Following an initial assessment of his needs it was evident that Simon struggled with flexibility of thinking and that unsettled behaviours would present when his expectations were not met. This could then manifest itself in paranoid behaviours, which he would then perseverate and allow to dictate his day.
Simon was provided with a structured programme to assist him in managing his expectations: a programme which he devised with the support of his Keyworker, Gareth.
By adopting a person-centred approach to the formulation of his programme, Simon felt in control of his day and less reliant on others to initiate activity for him. Simon was able to manage his own expectations of how his day would look.
He became increasingly able to manage deviations from this if he was informed of the purpose of these changes. Whilst Simon still presented with some agitation on such occasions, the structure and the relationship he had built with his key staff enabled him to become more receptive to feedback.
Simon became more flexible in other ways and was more willing to take on new challenges. His initial engagement in food preparation was short lived, but his willingness to at least ‘have a go’ was a marked difference from his previous compliance. He started to eat different meals at lunch time and take interest in his nutritional intake.
He joined the gym and set goals around his personal fitness. Whilst Simon was still largely dependent on others for some activities of daily living, he had developed new interests which significantly and positively impacted on his quality of life and mood.
Whilst Simon remained resistive to face-to-face therapy, he benefitted from oversight from the clinical team who would assess and inform future interventions and support. Simon gained some insight into the limitations imposed on him by his brain injury and focused on realistic goals, rather than shutting down at the suggestion of anything new. In brief, Simon started to enjoy his life.
Simon’s placement, in part, was to assess whether plans for future independent living were a viable option. During the year of his placement, on-going risk assessments were completed and observations made to inform future care needs on discharge home.
Close liaison with his case manager enabled remote planning during the Covid-19 pandemic, using technology to ensure that Simon could make decisions and choices regarding his future adaptations and environment. An occupational therapist from the team assessed Simon’s future home and made recommendations.
The team at Richardson Care also made recommendations on how a care package should look and Simon was involved in drawing up a person specification for the role of his personal assistant. In August 2020, almost a year since his admission, Simon discharged to his own home.
What did Simon say about the Coach House?
He felt that the staff treated him with dignity and respect and listened to him.
Simon said: “I like the room at the Coach House, I can’t complain.”
“I was only disappointed once during my stay.”
What did his case manager say about the Coach House?
Five weeks after admission:
“It was really lovely to visit yesterday and to see how well Simon is doing at the Coach House. It was particularly encouraging to hear that he is engaging with eating at the Coach House and not spending fortunes on going to a restaurant every day anymore! It was genuinely heart-warming to see the enthusiasm and satisfaction on his face, describing the steak lunch he had just bought, helped prepare and eaten.
Simon seems a great deal more relaxed in his new surroundings and it is abundantly clear that he has a great team around him, who understand his needs and are pro-active with him. He has not experienced that before, so it is all very pleasing! Many thanks.
After Simon’s discharge
“Could not have managed yesterday (or the past year!) without yours and especially Gareth’s support. He was an absolute legend yesterday – he really is a credit to himself and the Coach House. He did not relent in his efforts to help Simon settle in. He even put a ton of DVDs away on shelves after driving down and unloading the van in that heat. The man is a tank!
“I will make sure our paths cross again the next time I have a suitable candidate – I’ve really enjoyed working with you and your team too. You helped transform Simon’s life!
Chris Dindar RGN, Associate Case Manager at Brain Injury Services Ltd
Richardson Care is an independent family business and has a proven track record over more than 30 years. It has six specialist residential care homes in Northampton, three of which provide care for adults with acquired brain injury. The remaining specialise in supporting adults with learning disabilities. Its focus is on providing an inclusive family environment in which service users develop daily living skills, increasing their independence and well-being.
Expanding the horizon of neuro patients
With AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmills.
A wide range of patients are now benefiting from the use of AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmills throughout clinics across the UK.
Patients with a wide range of neurological conditions are gaining confidence within a fall-safe environment which allows for high intensity repetitions along with increasing motor learning early on in the rehabilitation stage.
Originally designed for NASA, the AlterG uses patented Differential Air Pressure Technology to unweight patients from 100% down to 20% of their bodyweight in precise 1% increments.
AlterG started in Professional Sport assisting with rehabilitation from ACL and Ankle injuries, moving onto MSK Physiotherapy Clinics. However multiple research papers and case studies have now been carried out to show the benefits of use with multiple neurological conditions including Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Functional neurological disorder, Brain Injuries & Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries.
Developing the technology further, along with a precise partial weight bearing environment, AlterG has liaised with multiple Neurological Physiotherapists and Surgeons and added new features to enhance the experience on the machine and enable patients to gain as much as possible from each session.
The machines are now available with basic Gait Analytics (Stance Time, Step Length and Weight Bearing Symmetries and Cadence), Pain scales, pre- programmed exercises and camera for live video monitoring allowing patients to see their feet whilst walking.
Multiple case studies have been carried out, one of which is Brainstem Cerebrovascular Accidents (CVA) or Strokes. In conjunction with AlterG, Kate Haugen from Great Moves Physical Therapy (Colorado, USA) wrote a great case study with regards to a 42-year-old runner and university tennis coach. The individual presented two strokes resulting in right sided weakness and significant balance deficits from the first stroke and almost complete paralysis on his left side for 8 days following a second CVA.
“Weightbearing exercises caused medial tibiofemoral joint line pain and swelling. The patient was unsuccessful with a stationary bike and elliptical trainer. AlterG allowed for more controlled loading progression for returning to Full Weight Bearing.”
After multiple weeks of rehabilitation, the patient can now step over objects and change direction quickly. In addition, there are no limitations with the distance the patient is able to walk, and they are not limited by fatigue.
Along with a range of case studies, various research papers are available online showing how the treadmill can be an effective intervention for those who have experienced a stroke or other neurological conditions.
“The AlterG enables Neuro patients to experience what they thought they could never do again – be it walking, jogging or running. We have had some very encouraging results – even with clients who had trialled some of others rehabilitation technologies, including a conventional partial-weightbearing treadmill. Any neuro patient who can achieve an assisted step to transfer into the AlterG can benefit.
The AlterG allows a physio to challenge neurological patients in a safe manner and in a cost-efficient manner without the need for an additional therapist or assistant”.
– Jon Graham, Physiofunction.
Trevor Donald, Managing Director of SportsMed Products Ltd (the UK distributor) stated “it is great to see research coming through about the huge benefits the AlterG can have for individuals suffering with neurological conditions. The patient stories emerging from our customers at neurological physiotherapy clinics has been incredible”
Not only does the AlterG aid walking but it can be used simply in a partial weight bearing environment to carry out exercises such as single hand throwing and catching, squats and hopping.
If you would like further information on the papers and case studies carried out along with clinical protocols please feel free to contact AlterG’s UK distributor, SportsMed Products Ltd.
The family experience of brain injury
After a person acquires a brain injury, the impact on the whole family can often be life changing as they adjust to a new reality and relationships come under intense pressure…
Karen Ledger (KL): When brain injury occurs, it’s like a bomb going off in the family. Life will never be the same again for any of the members of that family.
People will be shocked, bewildered and overwhelmed, and they then have to go through a complicated process of adjustment, and people reach that adjustment at different stages.
The person with the brain injury will generally have a neuropsychologist assigned to support them. Most will pay attention to people’s feelings and emotions, but the rest of the family may not have any psychological support.
This situation doesn’t get better of itself without professional input, it can get worse and people’s mental health can and often does spiral down.
Louise Jenkins (LJ): It’s a particular challenge if you’ve got someone with little or no insight. They often won’t recognise the need for or be willing to engage with neuropsychological treatment until much further down the line, by which stage, the family may have entered a more advanced stage of crisis and their whole family unit may be at risk of breakdown. There are complex emotions involved in the adjustment process following trauma which include shock, guilt and loss.
KL: That’s a scenario we see a lot. The client’s relationships may get to an advanced stage of deterioration and as Louise says, crisis, before they’re able to accept help. This is often because there is an immense amount to absorb from their new world of injury, rehabilitation and the medico-legal process and clients do not have the psychological space to consider how they are, never mind undertake the rehabilitation.
LJ: That’s where some of the challenges come in from the legal perspective. The compensation claim process is quite rigid in that generally speaking, only the injured person can claim for financial losses and for professional support, but we maintain that as the underpinning principle for compensation claims is to restore someone to their former lifestyle, you have to consider them both as an individual and as part of the family unit. We try to build into the claim some therapy sessions not only for the injured person but also for their spouse and their children.
Some defendants (compensators) say they’re happy to support that because, if the family unit breaks down and the uninjured spouse has been providing a lot of the day-to-day support, prompting and encouragement that the injured person needs, the cost of commercial care to replace that support is significantly more expensive than the amounts you can recover in a claim for support provided by a family member. It is also about embracing the spirit of the Rehabilitation Code and Serious Injury Guide in looking at the wider family need.
KL: Often, people can’t work anymore; they feel their work is taken away from them. People get their sense of identity out of work, as well as from being a spouse or a partner, a father or a mother. And if they lose their ability to earn and their relationships start to deteriorate these are often perceived as more failure and thereby serve to reduce a client’s confidence and self-worth.
LJ: It is akin to a bereavement process for the uninjured partner, yet the person is still there with you.
KL: People don’t have to have a death to experience loss, and loss can activate a bereavement process. So they’re grieving for the person they once knew, and now they’ve got this new person which makes adjustment to the injury complicated. And the thing about brain injuries is they’re hidden. The person looks the same but behaves differently to how they did before. It understandably takes a long time for clients and family members to really grasp the effects of brain injury, because they’re often traumatised, angry, discombobulated and distressed.
The family that includes somebody with a brain injury goes through a process of understanding, just as the client hopefully does. It’s a complex situation trying to comprehend what a brain injury means whilst feeling bereaved.
Family and children’s therapy is relevant too. Children often get missed because they deal with loss and trauma in different ways to adults. Children tend to get on with their lives, as if it’s not happening, so they need particular attention. They won’t be talking about it so much, but they’ll be experiencing it. The sooner that’s managed by specialists, the better it will be for children in the longer term, giving children the best chance of allowing normal development to take place.
LJ: It’s difficult because there’s a significant investment of time and energy put into implementing a rehabilitation programme and support around the injured person. This is integral to the claims process. The spouse can feel as if all the focus is on the injured person and they’ve been left out.
From a legal perspective, we try to involve the uninjured spouse as much as possible in discussing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We try to weave in that therapy support for the uninjured spouse so they come along the journey with us rather than becoming a disrupter to the rehabilitation programme because they feel excluded and unsupported. If securing interim payments through the claim to fund support is challenging at an early stage, our in-house team of client liaison managers, all of whom have a healthcare background, can provide time and input in discussing the challenges and in signposting for support both for the uninjured spouse and children as well as for the injured client. There are some really valuable resources for children, for example, which explain some of the problems that can arise in a parent who has sustained a brain injury to help them to understand and come to terms with changes in the family dynamics.
KL: People affected by brain injury can feel deserted by their partner and like a single parent. This is because they’ve lost their partner’s contribution to childcare and work in the home. The complexity and challenges of living in these circumstances should never be underestimated.
LJ: At the point of injury, they are in shock and just want to be there for the person who’s injured. I’ve worked with a number of people where the grief and adjustment process is very substantially delayed. These delays extend to weeks, months or even years.
They’re in a fight/flight/freeze situation. They’re managing a situation that’s about life and death initially in the most serious cases. When the acute stage is over and they have some space to start thinking about themselves, rather than the person who’s injured, they can start reflecting. It’s an emerging awareness that it’s never going to be the same again, that some degree of permanence will remain with the injuries, that this is how it will be in the longer term and a realisation that you need support to adjust to the new normal.
KL: It takes a while for that realisation to come in. I am often working with partners who are in that process of adjustment and what initially attracted them to the person pre-injury has been lost post injury, for example agile thinking and intelligence. Moreover they now find themselves in a caring role and one where many strangers are entering their home and talking to them in alien language! It’s not surprising that for many people this is often too challenging for them to manage and why therapy is needed as soon as possible for clients to regain their own personal power as soon as possible. They will have a private listening, respectful and tender place for them when the rest of their lives are so exposed.
LJ: They don’t know where that injured person is going to land with their recovery in the longer term. There’s a natural recovery process of a minimum of two years following brain injury, often longer, and they don’t know how much recovery the person’s going to make. They’re living with that uncertainty for a long time before being able to understand and adjust to what the long term will look like, often with significant physical, cognitive and behavioural changes which place great strain on sustaining relationships. Independent family law and financial advice is often essential to protect both parties in the event that the relationship does break down.
KL: I believe that acquired head injury is usually devastating to the person and those around them. However, in my experience, people are often amazing in how they find the strength to establish new ways of being and making their life work for them. Therapy can often speed up that process because clients feel heard, respected and understood, a powerful combination for a restorative process particularly when they are so often feeling powerless. This process can help families stay together or decide to go their separate ways and with support they are more likely to do this without acrimony and additional trauma. Observing and supporting clients and their loved ones to dig deep to find the strength and commitment to establish a new life is such an amazing privilege and honour for me.
LJ : When the claims process is managed by expert serious injury lawyers, early access to specialist rehabilitation and support will enable an injured claimant to restore their life to the best possible position and allow them to maximise their potential for the long term, restoring a sense of control and positivity for the future. Working together with therapists like Karen is essential to ensure that a multi-disciplinary network of support can be put in place in order to support an injured person to achieve their goals and rebuild their life as an individual and as part of a family unit after a life changing injury.
Louise Jenkins is a partner at Irwin Mitchell and leads the serious injury team at the firm’s Sheffield office. Karen Ledger is managing director of KSL Consulting and a therapist, counsellor and supervisor with over 30 years of experience.
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