Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Helping Veterans with PTSD

The Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) is collaborating with Fujitsu Laboratories of America (FLA) on research to improve treatment for war veterans with PTSD. This particular research focuses on the problems many veterans with PTSD have in driving cars and why they have a higher accident rate and trouble adjusting to normal driving.

Veterans will PTSD may have trouble processing speed, blocking out distractions, and not have the ability to react quickly to driving challenges. Also, PTSD may lead to irritable behavior resulting in anger outbursts and not being able to handle sounds such as screeching tires along with cars and trucks backfiring.

In addition, veterans of war can experience traumatic experiences due to explosive devices plus service members very often undergo “battlemind” training which involves learning aggressive driving practices. “Battlemind” training can involve driving too fast and unpredictably making fast lane changes. These skills may be needed in a war zone, but are dangerous in the home environment.    

As part of the research project, VAPAHCS fitted a car with FTA mobile technology to monitor the veteran driver. Researchers at Palo Alto collected data from the car by attaching sensors to the steering wheel, brake pedal, and gas pedal. For the veteran, the mobile technology records the veteran’s heart rate and respiration and then combines this information with data on the car’s location as well as factors on the road that might trigger PTSD symptoms.

While driving in the car with the veteran affected by PTSD, a staff member records any road incidents plus data from the monitoring belt worn by the veteran on an iPhone that includes a GPS. Then the information goes via Bluetooth to a miniature computer web server aboard the car. 

Also, to complete the research, the veteran has three in-car treatment sessions and a session with a psychologist to discuss their driving experiences in Afghanistan and/or Iraq plus the stress experienced while driving in the U.S.

 “This improved technology has enabled us to dramatically reduce the in-car IT footprint during the research project,” reports Dr. Woodward the Principal Investigator for the study at VAPAHCS. “This has streamlined our data collection and analysis and enabled us to focus on novel treatment solutions.”