On Saturday November 8, 2014, MossRehab is presenting an educational conference for people affected by brain injury—New Roads, New Directions: Finding Your Way After Brain Injury. Tessa Hart, PhD, institute scientist and director of the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Research Laboratory at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, will introduce the conference and is involved in several sessions. Dr. Hart, who is also director of the MossRehab Traumatic Brain Injury Model System, talked recently about what attendees can expect from the upcoming conference.
What is the goal of the conference?
Dr. Hart: The federal government has designated MossRehab as a Model System for traumatic brain injury since 1997. Being a Model System means that we are recognized as a center of excellence for both TBI treatment and research. The conference is part of our mission within that system to work to improve the lives of people affected by brain injury. We do research, we provide excellent clinical care, and we sponsor educational and networking events, of which this conference is the largest. It’s a good way to provide research findings to the people who need them—people with brain injury and their caregivers, as well as clinicians. We expect it to bring more than 300 people from the greater Philadelphia region and southern New Jersey to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
What do you hope people who attend will gain from coming to the conference?
Dr. Hart: In addition to education about resources available in the area, and information on new ways to diagnose and treat brain injury, we hope to provide a great networking opportunity. Families affected by brain injury will meet other families, as well as service providers they may not have encountered before.
Are there some sessions that you are particularly excited about?
Dr. Hart: The day looks very exciting overall. I’m looking forward to our keynote speaker Doug Markgraf. He is a young man who sustained a severe brain injury in a bicycle accident. He not only made a good recovery, but also undertook a bicycle trip across the country to raise awareness and funds for brain injury. He made a movie along the way called “This Beats a Coma.” Doug will do an inspirational talk at the beginning of the conference. I’m also looking forward to some new sessions that we haven’t featured before. There is one called “There’s an App for That!,” which will review apps that compensate for memory and planning difficulties, as well as mainstream apps on things like fitness and recreation. There is also a new session on nutrition and cooking—how to cook healthy meals simply and cheaply. Also, at the end of the conference we are doing something completely new for our closing session—Mastermind Speed Networking. Small tables of four to six people get together and take turns presenting questions and issues they are concerned about, and getting advice from other people at the table. We’ll have different tables for patients and for caregivers.
What are some of the sessions that are most popular among people with traumatic brain injury and their families?
Dr. Hart: There are sessions that are always well attended, and we are repeating them this year. We are holding sessions on how to approach cognitive challenges, how to approach mood difficulties like depression and anger, the basics of brain anatomy, the benefits of mindfulness and yoga, returning to work, dealing with relationships, and issues around substance abuse. Patients and caregivers should find great choices to learn and share.
You are part of a session on cognitive challenges. What will that session cover?
Dr, Hart: I’ll be presenting an overview of two different models of cognitive improvement after brain injury. One says you should exercise your brain like a muscle after an injury. Another says that doesn’t work, and you should compensate for your difficulties by using things like notes, calendars, and smart phones. We’ll have both clinicians and people with brain injury talk about the strategies that have been most successful for them, and invite audience members to share their tips for effective cognitive enhancement. I’m also involved in a session on mood management, where we’ll be giving tips on how to manage everyday difficulties with anger, depression and anxiety, and how to know when professional help might be needed.
Looking ahead, what are some of the most exciting areas in brain injury research and treatment that you see?
Dr. Hart: It is still a mystery why some people make a great recovery from brain injury, while others don’t, and some even deteriorate after starting out well. We need to discover what the factors are that enhance recovery and bring those to bear in developing novel treatments for people who have sustained brain damage. There’s a push in medicine to personalize treatment by using genomic information, for example. Looking at the genetic component to treatment and recovery is probably one of the most exciting areas coming down the pike.
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