‘Activity diet’ for the brain: New app helps people heal from concussions

The London Free Press (Ontario, CA)

June 16, 2022

London researchers have developed an online app to help people track and manage the lingering symptoms of concussions, a program that may eventually also help patients struggling with cognitive issues from long COVID.

The MyBrainPacer app is meant to help people with concussions and other mild traumatic brain injuries navigate lasting symptoms by encouraging them to be mindful of their daily activities and how those might be making the symptoms worse.

While the program, developed by the Lawson Health Research Institute, is targeting brain injuries, it could have applications for people struggling with brain fog, memory issues or other brain-related symptoms linked to long COVID, a condition that leaves some people who have had a bout of the virus with long-lasting symptoms.

“One of the clinicians that was involved in the development of the app is now a key person running the long COVID clinic at St. Joseph’s,” said Dalton Wolfe, a scientist with Lawson, the medical research arm of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London.

“We’ve already had conversations about (using the app for long-COVID patients).”

About 15 per cent of people who suffer a concussion can end up with lasting symptoms, including memory issues, exhaustion, headaches, migraines, vision problems and dizziness, months to years after their injury, said Samantha Bloom, a research co-ordinator on the project.

Like a weight-loss app logs food intake and exercise, the MyBrainPacer program tracks daily activities that require energy and brain power — everything from watching TV to grocery shopping and driving. Each activity is assigned a point value based on how mentally and physically strenuous it is.

App users have a set budget of points per day to use on their activities, like a maximum calorie count on a weight loss program. As users track their symptoms on MyBrainPacer, the program adjusts the daily point allotment to keep the person in a range that keeps their cognitive issues in check.

Budgeting daily activities can not only reduce the severity of post-concussion symptoms, but also help patients rest their brain and give it an opportunity to heal.

“What causes a person to go off the rails and have more symptoms is when they overdo things,” Wolfe said. “Having an activity diet of how many things you can do in a day might help the person plan better so that they don’t overdo it, fall off the rails and exacerbate their symptoms.”

The research team is looking for people with mild traumatic brain injuries to register as participants in the MyBrainPacer study at mybrainpacer.ca. The group is hoping to reach approximately 5,000 users.

The Lawson researchers are developing an updated version of the app that links users to their medical care team, Wolfe added.

Beyond the potential benefit to individual patients, the data collected by the app may also help concussion researchers understand more about lingering symptoms and the long-term trajectory of patient recovery, Wolfe said.

“We really don’t know an awful lot about the natural recovery of concussions. We know they’re very prevalent, but we don’t really know the time course and what works,” he said.

“It may be there are different strategies for people with different categories of symptoms. By following users in the app, we can start to explore and find those things out.”

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