The use of technology in healthcare settings is on the increase and may represent a cost-effective means of delivering rehabilitation. Reductions in treatment time, and delivery in the home, are also thought to be benefits of this approach. Children and adolescents with brain injury often experience deficits in memory and executive functioning that can negatively affect their school work, social lives, and future occupations. Effective interventions that can be delivered at home, without the need for high-cost clinical involvement, could provide a means to address a current lack of provision.We have systematically reviewed studies examining the effects of technology-based interventions for the rehabilitation of deficits in memory and executive functioning in children and adolescents with acquired brain injury.
To assess the effects of technology-based interventions compared to placebo intervention, no treatment, or other types of intervention, on the executive functioning and memory of children and adolescents with acquired brain injury.
We ran the search on the 30 September 2015. We searched the Cochrane Injuries Group Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Ovid MEDLINE(R), Ovid MEDLINE(R) In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, Ovid MEDLINE(R) Daily and Ovid OLDMEDLINE(R), EMBASE Classic + EMBASE (OvidSP), ISI Web of Science (SCI-EXPANDED, SSCI, CPCI-S, and CPSI-SSH), CINAHL Plus (EBSCO), two other databases, and clinical trials registers. We also searched the internet, screened reference lists, and contacted authors of included studies.
Randomised controlled trials comparing the use of a technological aid for the rehabilitation of children and adolescents with memory or executive-functioning deficits with placebo, no treatment, or another intervention.
Two review authors independently reviewed titles and abstracts identified by the search strategy. Following retrieval of full-text manuscripts, two review authors independently performed data extraction and assessed the risk of bias.
Four studies (involving 206 participants) met the inclusion criteria for this review.Three studies, involving 194 participants, assessed the effects of online interventions to target executive functioning (that is monitoring and changing behaviour, problem solving, planning, etc.). These studies, which were all conducted by the same research team, compared online interventions against a 'placebo' (participants were given internet resources on brain injury). The interventions were delivered in the family home with additional support or training, or both, from a psychologist or doctoral student. The fourth study investigated the use of a computer program to target memory in addition to components of executive functioning (that is attention, organisation, and problem solving). No information on the study setting was provided, however a speech-language pathologist, teacher, or occupational therapist accompanied participants.Two studies assessed adolescents and young adults with mild to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), while the remaining two studies assessed children and adolescents with moderate to severe TBI. Risk of biasWe assessed the risk of selection bias as low for three studies and unclear for one study. Allocation bias was high in two studies, unclear in one study, and low in one study. Only one study (n = 120) was able to conceal allocation from participants, therefore overall selection bias was assessed as high.One study took steps to conceal assessors from allocation (low risk of detection bias), while the other three did not do so (high risk of detection bias). Primary outcome 1: Executive functioning: Technology-based intervention versus placeboResults from meta-analysis of three studies (n = 194) comparing online interventions with a placebo for children and adolescents with TBI, favoured the intervention immediately post-treatment (standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.37, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.66 to -0.09; P = 0.62; I(2) = 0%). (As there is no 'gold standard' measure in the field, we have not translated the SMD back to any particular scale.) This result is thought to represent only a small to medium effect size (using Cohen's rule of thumb, where 0.2 is a small effect, 0.5 a medium one, and 0.8 or above is a large effect); this is unlikely to have a clinically important effect on the participant.The fourth study (n = 12) reported differences between the intervention and control groups on problem solving (an important component of executive functioning). No means or standard deviations were presented for this outcome, therefore an effect size could not be calculated.The quality of evidence for this outcome according to GRADE was very low. This means future research is highly likely to change the estimate of effect. Primary outcome 2: MemoryOne small study (n = 12) reported a statistically significant difference in improvement in sentence recall between the intervention and control group following an eight-week remediation programme. No means or standard deviations were presented for this outcome, therefore an effect size could not be calculated. Secondary outcomesTwo studies (n = 158) reported on anxiety/depression as measured by the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and were included in a meta-analysis. We found no evidence of an effect with the intervention (mean difference -5.59, 95% CI -11.46 to 0.28; I(2) = 53%). The GRADE quality of evidence for this outcome was very low, meaning future research is likely to change the estimate of effect.A single study sought to record adverse events and reported none. Two studies reported on use of the intervention (range 0 to 13 and 1 to 24 sessions). One study reported on social functioning/social competence and found no effect. The included studies reported no data for other secondary outcomes (that is quality of life and academic achievement).
This review provides low-quality evidence for the use of technology-based interventions in the rehabilitation of executive functions and memory for children and adolescents with TBI. As all of the included studies contained relatively small numbers of participants (12 to 120), our findings should be interpreted with caution. The involvement of a clinician or therapist, rather than use of the technology, may have led to the success of these interventions. Future research should seek to replicate these findings with larger samples, in other regions, using ecologically valid outcome measures, and reduced clinician involvement.