We believe that the use of computer games by children with cerebral palsy can improve their quality of life
Cerebral palsy is described as a group of permanent disorders of movement development and posture, which cause limitations in daily activities and are attributable to non-progressive alterations of the foetal or infant brain. Cerebral palsy is currently the leading cause of physical disability in children, with a prevalence of 2-3 per thousand newborns. Most people with cerebral palsy require lifelong medical, psychological, educational and social support, a situation that has a high impact on quality of life from early childhood. In addition to physical disability, many of the people affected often have sensory deficits and impaired communication and neuropsychological function, especially visuospatial deficit and executive dysfunction.
"We know that executive function plays a key role in the performance of daily activities and behavioural development. Therefore, deficits in this function can result in a poorer capacity to adapt to the environment and directly impact quality of life as a consequence. However, most medical treatments received by people with cerebral palsy focus basically on improving patient mobility without taking into account the neuropsychological aspects", says Dr Roser Pueyo.
In view of this situation, the research group decided to launch the ETCONNECT project, focussed on improving cognitive functions through the use of computer games that participants can play from home, thereby avoiding the need to travel and improving their treatment compliance. Furthermore, the use of games is a much more attractive approach for children, something that helps to increase their motivation and therefore the effectiveness of the treatment.
"By using online games we can work on inhibition, working memory, cognitive flexibility, high-level executive function and social cognition. To do so, the programme contains different activities that children have to carry out over a period of 12 weeks, spending about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Among the activities we find, for example, a game that consists of preparing the school bag, which increases in difficulty as the children play it," explains the research team.
Previous studies with other groups have indicated that there is an effect of transfer of the training from executive functions to other functions, as well as evidence of changes in the brain as a result of training.
"For this reason we believe that training done from home through these computer games may have an effect not only on executive function, but also on other cognitive functions, the ability to participate in everyday activities and the quality of life of the participating children. In addition, we hope to be able to demonstrate changes in neuroplasticity through functional and structural analysis of brain connectivity", concludes Dr Roser Pueyo.
During the study, the researchers will perform three neuropsychological examinations to assess participants' cognitive status, emotional state, social participation and quality of life.
The study is open to children between the ages of 8 and 12 diagnosed with cerebral palsy or motor-skill impairment of early cerebral origin and who can play alone on a computer or tablet. For further information on when and how to participate in the project, please visit the ETCONNECT website: https://etconnectub.wixsite.com/etconnect
The project is staffed by researchers from the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute · University of Barcelona Institute of Neurosciences - UBNeuro), medical professionals from the Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona Children's Hospital, the Hospital de la Vall d'Hebron, the ASPACE Catalunya Foundation, the Queensland Cerebral Palsy & Rehabilitation Research Center and the Australian EHealth Research Center. It recieves funding from the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (PSI2016-75979- R AEI/FEDER, UE) and the Agency for Management of University and Research Grants (AGAUR) of the Catalan Government (2017SGR0748).
To verify the effectiveness of online cognitive training in improving the cognitive functions of children with cerebral palsy