Mobile, with an electric quality

Humans are tool users—one of our defining characteristics, I'm told. And I suspect that there's no tool that is more shaping our future right now than smartphones. This technology and the ways in which it might reduce disability for people with cognitive impairment is a major interest of mine, and of many people in this field, from researchers to clinicians, people with brain injuries and their family members. We all see great potential. However the backdrop is, disappointingly, decades of researcher activity in the area that has led with only a few exceptions to almost nothing in the way of actual shipping products that can be tested by other research teams, let alone actually used by people with brain injuries and their families. This must change, and in my view we must focus our attention squarely on mainstream technology to provide the solutions that we're looking for.

I'm not alone in thinking this. Chu et al. examine this issue in their most welcome paper, Cognitive support technologies for people with TBI: Current usage and challenges experienced published in Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology. With two focus groups of people with traumatic brain injuries and their caregivers, they discussed the experiences in the use of off-the-shelf technologies to support cognitive functioning. Their paper draws out relevant themes that are highly applicable to application, and provide a roadmap for further research. As the paper discusses, particularly interesting to grapple with is the opportunities and challenges inherent in the way that these technologies do not just enable an individual, but provide support for relationships in networks—for a family member to partner with a person with cognitive difficulties in a way that enables them to both contribute to the remembering process, for instance. I imagine such links could be experienced in may ways—as bridges, as tethers, as lifelines—and finding the right ways to deliver such services will clearly be important to maximise both functioning and acceptability. Their paper covers many other issues. It sharpens the questions rather than attempting to answer them.

If this is a topic that interests you, there are a number of upcoming opportunities to hear me speak about mobile technology in rehabilitation. I will be giving a research seminar as part of the Person Centred Research Seminar open meting series on Wednesday 28 August 2013. The talk is from 12:00–1:00pm in Room AB217 on the Auckland University of Technology North Shore campus in Auckland, New Zealand. The talk is open to the public and you'd be most warmly welcome to come along. Arrive in good time as you'll need to park in the nearby streets off campus. A map of the AUT North Shore campus is available here.
I'll also be talking in greater length about these issues in my upcoming professional development courses on Community Based Rehabilitation for Acquired Brain Injury, which I'm teaching with Prof. Barry Willer in Sydney on 3–6 September 2013 and in Auckland on 19–22 November 2013. These four day courses cover a wide range of evidence-based practical guidance for brain injury rehabilitation, and you'd be welcome to join us at either course. Registrations are open now.