Michelle Kahn and Megan Banky.
Michelle Kahn and Megan Banky. Contributed

Research team hunts for brain injury answer

UNIVERSITY of the Sunshine Coast research into using phone apps and video game technology to improve the assessment of patients with traumatic brain injuries has received a grant from the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV).

The study by USC PhD students and practising neurological physiotherapists Michelle Kahn and Megan Banky aims to develop low-cost technology for clinicians to use when measuring outcomes for patients with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI).

The pair, who work at Epworth Hospital, were delighted to receive a $57,000 Sir Edmund Herring Memorial Scholarship from the RACV that will help them find ways to assist people who have sustained brain injuries from vehicle crashes.

Ms Kahn said current methods of assessing people with ABI involved using motion tracking systems worth about $250,000 that are only available in a few locations in each state.

"We get updated phones every year, kids have video games capable of virtual reality, but in the clinical setting we're using basic assessment measures developed in the 1950s," she said.

"We want to utilise the modern motion sensor technology used in mobile phones and devices like the Xbox to measure a patient's impairments, whether that's a walking abnormality, spasticity or problems with upper limb movement.

"Because of the low cost of this equipment, this technology could be immediately integrated into hospitals and smaller clinics, including in rural or remote areas. This would allow people to access more accurate assessment and therefore better treatment sooner.

"One tool we're developing would involve strapping a smart phone onto a person's joint to measure their range and speed of movement, identifying the presence of spasticity, and evaluating if they improve following treatment."

The Sir Edmund Herring Memorial Scholarship supports projects to prevent road trauma and improve the quality of care delivered to road trauma victims.

Ms Banky said improving availability of assessment tools could have a direct impact on the quality of life of those with brain injuries.

"The current system forces patients to wait for months to be assessed, and months to have the results processed," Ms Kahn said.

"Because of that, people are delaying decisions about surgery and undergoing therapy without having an accurate measure of their progress.

"With ABI, we're quite often working with young people who have the rest of their lives ahead of them. We need to get them functioning as well as they can so they can integrate into the community."

The research is being supervised by USC Senior Research Fellow Dr Ross Clark, along with expert clinicians Professor John Olver and Associate Professor Gavin Williams.

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