Neurosciences in the spotlight

Medical experts in spinal cord injury and neurosciences gathered in Fourways in August to discuss innovations and best practice in rehabilitation. MARISKA MORRIS attended.

The South African Neurological Rehabilitation Association (SANRA) and the Southern African Spinal Cord Association (SASCA) joined forces for the SANRA SASCA Congress, held in Fourways, Gauteng, from August 23 to 25.

From the impact of neuroscience on stroke rehabilitation to the quality of life of former rugby players who’ve sustained a spinal cord injury (SCI), the presentations touched on various aspects of spinal cord and brain injuries.

Professor Stephanie Clarke, head of the Neuropsychology and Neurorehabilitation Clinic at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), a university hospital in Switzerland, discussed her research in neuroscience that has found ways of bypassing brain injuries caused by strokes. One method is Prismatic Adaption (PA).

With PA, the patient wears glasses that deviate to the right (the area in the brain that is neglected post-injury) and, after a while, it allows the patient to better see objects to their right. Clarke noted: “After two weeks of PA, the effects could last up to six months.”

While this approach could assist various stroke patients, Clarke pointed out that it will not work for everyone, and it’s therefore important to determine which patients will benefit the most. Organisations are more likely to fund research projects with high success rates, which in turn will allow researchers to innovate and refine the fields to give the patient the best chance of recovery. Clarke urged medical professionals from any field to be more selective with patients included in studies to ensure success.

“Be more picky and establish indicators. If a patient shows improvement, continue the study. Rather decrease the number of patients who’re participating, but get multiple institutions involved,” she said.

Dr Susan Coetzer from the University of the Witwatersrand shared some of her findings on measures to prevent frailty, including exercise, nutritional supplements and regular medical reviews. Professor Emily Plowman shared her findings on best practice guidelines for clinical swallowing evaluation.

Marelise Badenhorst, a physiotherapist and PhD student based at the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town, talked about the quality of life of people who suffered a rugby-related SCI. She found that participation played a very important role – for example, the patient’s ability to join in on activities, to be independent and to have accessibility. Income also played an important role, but she noted that this group of SCI patients receives assistance from the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players Fund.

QASA CEO Ari Seirlis addressed delegates about the activities within QASA to highlight the everyday challenges of people with mobility impairments. He called on organisations like SANRA and SASCA to support QASA outside of the rehabilitation centres to realise QASA’s vision: “All quadriplegics and paraplegics in South Africa will live their lives to the fullest.”

At the Congress there was also a small exhibition area with companies like CE Mobility, Chairman Industries, ConvaTec, Coloplast and Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital showcasing their various product and service offerings.

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