Dr. Gail Eskes creates ‘Cognitive Repair Kit’
Clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Gail Eskes is leading a five-year, $2.6 million Brain Repair Centre project to develop and test a take-home ‘Cognitive Repair Kit’ for people whose ability to pay attention has been impaired by stroke.
“This is a new area of stroke rehabilitation,” comments Dr. Eskes, a Professor in Dalhousie’s Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology & Neuroscience. “Until now, rehabilitation efforts have focused on more immediately obvious physical deficits. Cognitive deficits are more difficult to detect, yet they have an enormous impact on people’s ability to function in their lives.”
Dr. Eskes is working with Dr. Ray Klein (Psychology), Dr. David Westwood (Kinesiology), and Dr. Ivar Mendez (University of Saskatchewan), computer scientists, video game developers and other specialists to develop a fun, easy-to-use series of computer-based exercises specifically designed to improve people’s ability to pay attention.
“Attention is the most important cognitive skill to rehabilitate,” Dr. Eskes explains. “People need to be able to place their attention on what’s important, and keep it there, to safely and effectively do what they need to do each day, interact with others and retain vital information.”
Dr. Eskes and her colleagues are also refining a series of cognitive assessment tests, which will provide stroke patients with an ‘attention report card’ and a customized attention rehabilitation program. Participants in the study who do not have a computer at home will take their training program home on a laptop. The interactive Web-based program monitors their performance in various areas, allowing the researchers to adjust the exercises accordingly.
“We are also testing the Cognitive Repair Kit with other conditions that affect attention, such as Parkinson’s disease, and could later expand to address epilepsy, brain injury and multiple sclerosis,” Dr. Eskes says.
ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund has provided $1.8 million to the project. Local partners, including Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Capital Health, Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, the Brain Repair Centre, and Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Science and Department of Psychiatry, contributed matching funds.