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Improving communication in people with traumatic brain injury

City event discusses latest research and treatment approaches

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists and Psychologists came to City University London towards the end of February to hear more about communication treatment approaches for people with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

With speakers including Dr Nicholas Behn from City University London and Professor Leanne Togher from the University of Sydney Australia, participants discovered more about current research and took back ideas and free tools to benefit their own clinical work with people with TBI.

Traumatic brain injuries occur frequently and can often be the result of road traffic accidents and physical assaults. Communication problems can frequently occur after such incidents and can result in social isolation, loss of friends and reduced quality of life.

The day focused on different treatment approaches for helping people regain and improve their communication skills following a TBI. The morning session was presented by Professor Togher and discussed evidence-based communication partner training, which involves people with brain injury working with their communication partners (e.g. family member or friend) to improve their conversational interactions.

Complimenting this approach, Dr Nicholas Behn spoke about project-based treatment, wherein groups of individuals with TBI worked collaboratively to plan and achieve a project designed to help others and also improve their own communication skills and quality of life.

In particular, Professor Togher spoke about the findings of TBI Express, a communication-training program for people with TBI, their families, friends and carers, which she developed with colleagues at the University of Sydney. Following a clinical trial, Professor Togher and colleagues found that training communication partners made a significant difference to the conversational skills of people with brain injury, and this led to a change in the first impressions of strangers as measured by established clinical scales. It was also shown to provide the first link in re-establishing the social network of the person with TBI and also helped improved engagement in social activities, increased independence for some people with brain injury.

In the afternoon session, Dr Behn discussed improving communication skills and quality of life for people with acquired brain injury following group project-based treatment. Talking about his doctoral research, which aimed to define and establish treatment consistency for such treatment, Dr Behn found that it not only resulted in some improved communication skills for the people affected, but also their communication partner and the overall conversation.

Over time improvements were also seen in communication skills for the communication partner and also in quality of life measures. Research participants receiving treatment also found it very helpful, saying that “when it was first talked about I thought is it going to be another one of this funny wonders but as the weeks progressed and I could feel that we were making progress and I thought it was all worthwhile”. Another participant said that “our little group we were all sharing and talking and supporting each other.”

Speaking about the day, Dr Behn said:

“It was wonderful to have someone of Professor Togher’s reputation and expertise come and share ideas and tools for helping people with communication difficulties following brain injury. I hope people who attended will be able to go back to their places of work and use ideas from Leanne, and work that I’ve conducted at City, to help people with brain injury improve their communication and help them get back to their everyday lives.”

Participants tweeted information about the day using #CityLCSTBI. A summary of tweets for the day can be found here.

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.