Brain Repair Centre member Dr. Gail Eskes is working with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, Dalhousie colleagues and local technology firm, REDSpace, to develop the “Cognitive Repair Kit.” Just as its name suggests, the Cognitive Repair Kit provides a set of tools to help people repair cognitive abilities that have been compromised—primarily by stroke but also by Parkinson’s disease.

 “Survivors of stroke and Parkinson’s patients often encounter problems with their working memory,” explains Dr. Eskes, a clinical neuropsychologist at Capital Health and professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at Dalhousie University. “This is the ability to hold and think about ideas in your mind. It allows you to follow a complex conversation, for example, and supports your ability to reason and solve problems.”

The first tool in the Cognitive Repair Kit is a computer game called the N-Igma Machine, based on the Enigma machine used in World War II and throughout the mid-20th century to encipher and decipher secret messages.

“The software is finished and now we’re testing the N-Igma Machine in clinical trials with stroke and Parkinson’s patients, as well as healthy older adults, to measure precisely how well it improves their working memory,” Dr. Eskes says. “Participants are enthusiastic about the game—it takes them through a story in which they have to crack coded messages they receive from spies in the field in order to relay the messages to the central agency. The game gets harder as they progress, but people are responding to the challenge and regaining confidence in their abilities as they succeed at each progressive level.”

Dr. Eskes is also interested in the impact of physical exercise on cognitive recovery after stroke. She’s collaborating with Dalhousie physiotherapy professors, Dr. Marilyn MacKay Lyons and Dr. Shaun Boe, in a trial that combines regular supervised exercise with the Enigma Machine to see if exercise enhances the cognitive-recovery effects of the computer game.

“We’re seeing strong improvements so far—stroke patients are saying they can do things they couldn’t do before,” says Dr. Eskes.

Other tools in the works for the Cognitive Repair Kit include games to reduce a person’s distractibility and improve their ability to stay focused on a task—abilities that are also commonly affected by brain injury and disease.

Another problem that affects about half of the people who survive a stroke is called “spatial neglect.” “They literally cannot perceive the left-hand side of their environment, which is a huge safety issue,” explains Dr. Eskes. “We’ve developed a game to go with ‘prism goggles’ and just got funding from Springboard to adapt it to an iPad app.”

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) has invested $1.8 million in the Cognitive Repair Kit, while Capital Health, Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, the Brain Repair Centre, Dalhousie’s faculties of Medicine and Science, and the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation have provided matching funds.


Stay tuned for more stories featuring the important work of our Brain Repair Centre researchers.

Dr. Gail Eskes and Stephane MacLean review the N-Igma Machine brain-training game Franzi Kinzel and Janet Green test “prism” goggles for correcting spatial neglect Janet Green, Gail Eskes, Stephane MacLean, Franzi Kinzel, Kerry Clifton in their lab at the Brain Repair Centre    Neuropsychologist Dr. Gail Eskes and her Cognitive Repair Kit team

Thursday the 21st. © 2018. All rights reserved.. Bridgewater Media Services