Research studies stroke-related memory loss

University of Canterbury (UC) computer science and software engineering experts are looking to help recover loss of memory for people who have suffered strokes.

People who suffer strokes usually undergo substantial rehabilitation in the hope of restoring their memory to where it was.

Currently, there is not a rehabilitation process to restore people's memory, only their physical movement.

The UC research team, headed by computer science and software engineering professor Tanja Mitrovic, has received an $830,000 Marsden Fund grant to help stroke survivors.

Research team member Dr Moffat Mathews says research shows brain training could improve functioning and positively affect quality of life, while current customised rehabilitation was labour-intensive and expensive.

"Loss of memory - or forgetting to remember - is common among stroke patients and other patients with brain injury. Unfortunately, this is one of the main reasons that requires patients to be under 24 hour care, usually for the rest of their lives, as their quality of life, particularly in regards to safety, deteriorates with loss of memory.

"Stroke is the third largest killer disease in New Zealand and the western world. With our ageing population, this issue is becoming more important, both in terms of quality of life, and in terms of cost to the patient.

"Researchers have found that the brain can re-wire itself to re-learn skills lost due to injury. This is what we are trialling in this project.

"We are using a simple technique called visual mnemonics to help patients encode cue-to-action associations so that they are better recalled when the cue is seen later.

"Our end goal is to create an intelligent virtual reality training environment in which patients can retrain their memory using this technique when performing basic skills,'' Dr Mathews says.

"We are hoping to do a similar study with stroke patients soon. Studies show that even with practice, people are able to increase their memory with short training sessions,'' Dr Mathews says.

About 2500 New Zealanders suffer strokes annually and around 10 percent of stroke deaths occur in people under 65. Stroke is the major cause of serious adult disability in New Zealand. There are an estimated 60,000 stroke survivors in New Zealand. Many are disabled and need significant daily support.

As well as Professor Mitrovic and Dr Mathews, the research team includes Professor Stellan Ohlsson from Chicago, Dr Audrey McKinlay from Monash University in Melbourne and UC postgraduate students Jay Holland and Jon Rutherford

Fairfax Media