Smart phone helps with patients memory problems

August 26, 2010 8:15:56 PM PDT
A new device is helping thousands of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with an invisible wound of war. While surgeons have repaired their bodies, the struggle now is to treat their minds.

ABC7 first met Jason Poole while he was being treated for severe injuries from a roadside bombing in Iraq. While doctors at the Palo Alto VA have repaired much of the damage to his head and body, his brain is a more difficult challenge.

"I have, like, the worst memory, you know, it's really crappy," Poole said.

Poole is working on his memory and cognitive skills with therapist Harriett Katz Zeiner. But even before he arrives at her office, he has another advisor to help him keep his appointment.

Meet PEAT -- short for Planning and Execution Assistant Trainer. The system, built into a smart phone, is helping veterans and other brain injury patients function from day to day.

The software technology was created at NASA Ames Research Center to help crews running the Mars rover make quicker decisions and deal with unexpected problems.

Then engineer Rich Levinson had an idea.

"I realized it also applied to people with brain injuries and cognitive impairments," he said.

They started with a dynamic day planner, which adjusts to unexpected changes. Besides keeping tracks of names, faces and appointments, new versions of the device will also monitor a patient's movements and behavior.

Levinson's team is getting ready to install sensors in Poole's apartment, which will relay information via wireless signals to the phone.

"We can tell, for example, what room they're in, whether they're eating breakfast earlier so we can make the adjustments on the fly," Levinson said.

He says the ultimate plan is to add biosensors which will alert therapists of spikes in blood pressure or other signs a patient is becoming overwhelmed.

Poole's therapist says it is part of an evolving strategy at the VA to help veterans suffering from head trauma or PTSD function over the long term.

Poole believes the extra help is already making a difference.

Levinson's team hopes to have the new sensors installed in Poole's apartment as early as next month.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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