Stroke is a leading cause of disease burden in Australia and one of the most disabling chronic medical conditions because its sequelae affect such a wide range of functions, including cognitive capabilities, mood, speech, perception, motor skills, and the capacity to carry out basic and instrumental activities of everyday living. Similarly, spinal cord injury (SCI) – a devastating condition that is most common in younger males and has lifelong implications for both the affected individual and those close to them – is associated with a range of psychosocial symptoms, including depression, anxiety and greater perceived stress. Although the loss of motor function is the most debilitating consequence of SCI, pain is the most disabling health problem precluding participation in daily and social activities. Persistent pain is reported in up to 80% of SCI patients with more than 50% rating their pain as severe or excruciating. Over 50% of people with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease have difficulty remembering, problem solving and/or paying attention. This difficulty in the way the mind works can have an overwhelming and devastating impact on the individual and their loved ones. It has been common knowledge for more than 20 years that these difficulties in memory, thinking and/or attention exist, and that they impact on the ability of an individual to live a valued and meaningful life.
Clinical Associate Professor Byrnes has developed an integrated cognitive and psychological therapy program called CogACT to assist individuals with neurological disorders experiencing difficulty with remembering, problem solving and/or paying attention. A computerised cognitive retraining program (Cogmed QM) has been specially designed to improve attention by effectively increasing the amount of information that our brain can store and the speed at which we learn this information. The level of difficulty of each training task is automatically adapted to each individual’s performance level. Each person performs the cognitive retraining program on a personal computer at home and attends weekly therapy sessions. The psychological component of the program has been proven to reduce depression, anxiety and stress in individuals with long-term medical and psychological difficulties.