(Photo illustration provided by DARPA/Released)
Despite the best efforts of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to protect the health of U.S. service members and veterans, the effects of neuropsychological illness brought on by war, traumatic injuries and other experiences are not always easily treated.
While current approaches can often help to alleviate the worst effects of these illnesses, they are imprecise and not universally effective. Demand for new therapies is high as mental disorders are the leading cause of hospital bed days and the second leading cause of medical encounters for active duty service members.
Among veterans, ten percent of those receiving treatment from the Veterans’ Health Administration are provided mental health care or substance abuse counseling.
DARPA created the Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program to pursue advances in neuroscience and neurotechnology that could lead to new clinical understanding of how neuropsychological illnesses manifest in the brain and to advanced therapies to reduce the burden and severity of illness in afflicted troops and veterans.
Department of Veterans Affairs officials have launched a Paralympic Program website as part of the VA’s ongoing commitment to support the rehabilitation and recovery of disabled veterans through participation in adaptive sports.
Members of the Air Force wheelchair basketball team compete May 18, 2011, at the 2011 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. One of the highlights of the new Veterans Affairs paralympic program website is the "Success Stories" page, which features disabled veterans and their stories of how participating in adaptive sports has positively impacted their lives. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)
“Adaptive sports participation among disabled veterans has many proven benefits such as increased independence, reduced dependency on pain and depression medication and stress reduction,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Providing resources for disabled veterans to participate or compete in adaptive sports supports the holistic wellness of veterans, which is a key component of VA’s veteran-centric care.”
One of the highlights of the new website is the “Success Stories” page, which features disabled veterans and their stories of how participating in adaptive sports has positively impacted their lives. Veterans who participate in adaptive sports at any level, as well as Paralympic competitors, are encouraged to submit their stories and share their challenges and triumphs with the entire veteran community. (more…)
Dr. Shinn-Cunningham uses test subjects like this mannequin to study how the brain reacts to different sound settings. (Courtesy photo)
Dr. Barbara Shinn-Cunningham is a Professor of Cognitive and Neural Systems and Biomedical Engineering at Boston University and a National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellow.
As an engineer who also happens to be a musician, studying how we hear was a natural choice for me when I entered graduate school. What I didn’t realize back then was that work I do would have implications for hundreds of thousands of returning American war veterans who have service-related hearing injuries, not to mention the tens of millions of civilian Americans who have hearing loss.
In many social settings, like a cocktail party, multiple sounds reach the ears from all different directions. Normal-hearing, young, healthy listeners are good at focusing on whatever source they are interested in (like the attractive lawyer they just met) and ignoring other sounds (the snob opining about the hint of grapefruit is his chardonnay, the couple bickering about their finances, …). In other words, most listeners are able to filter out unwanted sound sources and focus on what sound is important, a process known as “selective auditory attention”.
Understanding when and how selective auditory attention fails is a problem that has real consequences in every walk of life. Imagine not being able to converse with your spouse at the dinner table because of the rambunctious antics of your three young children, or not being able to understand a command directed at you during a critical moment on a battlefield. Failing to filter out unwanted sounds can lead to catastrophic outcomes, from social isolation to life-threatening decision errors.