For many people who suffer from health conditions related to the brain, the prognosis can seem hopeless or difficult. From strokes to tumors, there are all kinds of issues that seem in the darkest moments to have no cure or solution – especially when the diagnosis is chronic, long term or even terminal.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Step forward neuroscience, a discipline designed to improve the way that the brain and its functions are understood. And thanks to technology, neuroscience is moving to the next stage pretty quickly. From the capacity it offers for early interventions and the discovery of problematic illnesses to how it allows the genome to be used to personalize treatments, tech is turning around this scientific discipline and giving it the added clarity it needs to change the lives of those who suffer from brain problems. Here’s how.
One of the most important ways in which technology can improve neuroscience is in the form of early detection and warning systems. Many – although of course not all – of the conditions which affect the brain and its proper functioning occur later in life. Take the example of Alzheimer’s disease: this condition rarely happens in people under the age of 50, but yet it can feel like it has slowly crept up on those who suffer from it.
Now, however, it’s becoming increasingly possible for medical professionals to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other similar conditions early on. One piece of research focused on the presence of amyloid-beta protein plaques, a phenomenon that often heralds the onset of Alzheimer’s. It is now possible to locate the existence of this 20 years before the point at which Alzheimer’s symptoms start to appear – meaning that the disease can be slowed in its tracks.
Research into autism
Autism, in particular, has been at the forefront of neuroscience research in recent years. Professionals including Amy Yasko have been looking into ways in which autism care can be integrated, while others have been researching what might cause it and how its effects can be mitigated from a neuroscience perspective. One such area of focus has been on the role of seizures. There has long since been a suspected link between the way autism plays out and the condition of epilepsy, but it’s only recently that experiments have been carried out in earnest to see what this relationship might look like.
Given that a quarter of autistic kids above the age of 13 have epilepsy as a co-morbidity, recent research has led to all kinds of innovations. A story in The Scientist magazine described how the development of a metal tool that replaces sections of the human skull in those with epilepsy has changed the lives of some young people who experience seizures and has helped them to turn their lives around.
Personalization of treatments
Personalization has become the name of the game in a wide range of industries in recent years. And in neuroscience, it’s no different: in fact, personalization has been the key to understanding how the genome can be used to improve patient outcomes and ensure that any neuro problems can be tackled. By discovering the exact genetic code and make-up of a patient, physicians are quickly able to find the right place to start when it comes to prescribing treatment.
By Drs. Will Brandon, PhD., president and CEO of Learning ARTS, and Michael Harrington, PhD.
About one in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
Though it is still unclear whether the difference is primarily due to increased incidence of such disorders or more accurate screening procedures, ASD has become a national priority. The demand placed on treatment service is outstripping availability. One organization, Learning A.R.T.S., is turning to information technology to meet this soaring demand.
Founded in 1994 and based in California, Learning A.R.T.S. has embraced applied behavior analysis (ABA) and its focus on in-home, one-on-one instruction to improve patients’ social and life skills. It has enjoyed rapid success expanding to 11 regional locations spread across the state.
Learning A.R.T.S. programs help teach patients skills—from tying shoes to writing résumés—and foster an information- and communication-rich environment. Initially, as the organization expanded its services, the challenges were to communicate and coordinate operations across geographically dispersed facilities and client locations using traditional paper and telephone-based communication.
Applied behavioral analysis and treatment programs involve Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA), specialists, and technicians. Coordination between team members is central to success of ABA, placing a premium on the flow of information among them.
Increased demand has doubled the organization’s caseload, however. To meet this demand, Learning A.R.T.S. developed a new case management strategy driven largely by the adoption of an information management technology system by Laserfiche.
Previously, Learning A.R.T.S. dealt with volumes of paper forms and data records that needed to be authenticated, reviewed, duplicated, stored and retrieved. The organization now works with the same records in digital form stored in a central computer repository. This transition required the digitization of hundreds of thousands of existing paper records, and then training staff to work with the information in a new, digital format.
The effort resulted in seemingly endless opportunity to apply new technologies for information management that could not be applied to paper records. More importantly, those opportunities mean many more ASD children and families are getting the timely assistance they need.
For example, Learning A.R.T.S. field workers can now use mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, to gather and file patient information in real time, on location. The data is managed through digital workflow processes that eliminate reams of redundant paperwork, and can be stored in archives and accessed immediately through a central server. This translates into significant efficiencies in HR management of staff, accounting and billing, as well as in faster delivery of client services.
The organization has seen cost savings in terms of staff accounting, new employee onboarding, payroll and billing. But one benefit outweighs any monetary return: better patient care and more positive results.
Learning A.R.T.S. has found that response times are critical to successful treatment. ASD patients frequently act out in frustration, often becoming violent, which also can be emotionally draining for field staff. Treatment response involves not only accurate and timely communications, but also a considerable amount of orientation and training relevant to the technician’s functions.