EpLink study focusing on improving children’s working memory

March 14, 2013

A study aimed at improving children’s working memory with a computer-based training program is being cited as one of the major highlights of EpLink, an epilepsy research program established by the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI).

From left to right, Dr. Jorge Borneo and Dr. McIntyre Burnham, co-directors of the OBI Epilepsy Research Project
From left to right, Dr. Jorge Borneo and Dr. McIntyre Burnham, co-directors of the OBI Epilepsy Research Project

EpLink co-director Dr. McIntyre Burnham says the study, which is led by Dr. Elizabeth Kerr, a clinical neuropsychologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, shows a lot of promise for children living with epilepsy, who are often affected by challenges with working memory.

Working memory refers to the cognitive system that stores transitory information. Working memory helps us with verbal and nonverbal functions, such as reasoning and comprehension.

Few studies have taken aim at addressing working memory issues in people with epilepsy, says Burnham. Kerr, who brings more than 15 years’ experience working with children who have drug-resistant epilepsy, is illustrating a lot of innovation with her study, he adds.

The program at the centre of her research is similar to a computer game. The program takes about five weeks to complete and can be done by children at home, with coaching provided over the telephone.

Assessments of the children’s cognitive functioning are done at the beginning of the program, at the end of the program and then again four months after the program’s completion.

If Kerr’s research proves successful, Burnham says opportunities could arise to expand the computer-based training to more people.

“Although the study is presently taking place in Toronto, there is no reason why it couldn’t be done everywhere in Ontario if it is successful,” he says.

“It could be done with adults as well as with children, and it is possible that the phone counselling might be done by trained personnel at the nonprofit epilepsy associations.”

Kerr’s research isn’t the only EpLink study focused on developing computer technology to benefit people with epilepsy. One EpLink study is investigating computer programs used to help people with anxiety and depression to see if they could help people with seizure disorders.

The EpLink program is unique in Canada. It involves more than 25 researchers working at nine different university and hospital sites across Ontario. EpLink also encompasses five industry partners and five nonprofit advocacy groups.

On March 5, the province committed to injecting $100 million over five years to OBI, which, in turn, means five more years of EpLink funding.

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Writer: Deron Hamel

* If you wish to reprint this story, please include following notice: “This story originally appeared on the Epilepsy Ontario website.” 

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