The Gateway: Volume 102, Issue 01

Page 8

the gateway

news 8

September 1, 2011

Nurture just as crucial as nature in cerebral palsy therapy: study Diana Gaviria News WRITER

Physical therapy professors from the University of Alberta and McMaster University have pioneered research to support context-focused therapy, a new method of treating cerebral palsy that focuses on changing the child’s tasks and environment instead of enhancing muscle strength. The study showed that while therapists who treat children with traditional methods of cerebral palsy therapy such as motor skills development saw significant improvement, gains were also seen in children who were only exposed to changes in their environment. “We wanted to see what the active ingredient was in intervention,” said Johannah Darrah, the lead researcher at the U of A. “Do you have to focus on the child or do you have to focus on the context? We found both were equally effective. So, it tells us that it is important to consider both (and that) it is really, really important to look at goals in context.” The study boasted the largest sample size to date for intervention strategy research; 128 children and 70 therapists from Alberta and Ontario in two randomized treatment groups. Therapists were instructed to treat their children with either traditional methods of cerebral palsy therapy or context-focused therapy methods. In one instance, a therapist was working with a girl who had some trouble getting on and off the school bus everyday. The parents wanted her to be able to get on and off the bus by herself so, instead of trying to strengthen the girl’s leg muscles (as would have been done in childfocused therapy), the therapist

original research Johannah Darrah studied therapists’ treatments and found environment-based therapy to be beneficial alongside traditional methods. Dan Mckechnie contacted the school system. She explained that the bus steps were too high for the girl, and the next day the school sent a different bus with smaller steps. “(The girl) was able to get onto the bus independently, so the therapist had solved the problem and reached the parents’ goal in 24 hours. Now the child was independent getting up onto the bus, but she hadn’t done anything with the child,” Darrah said. Darrah admits that it is unlikely that context-focused therapy will become a stand-alone method of treatment, but that it was necessary to separate the two techniques for research purposes. Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term used to describe a number of

disorders that affect an individual’s movement and posture, and that can be attributed to disruptions in the development of the fetal or infant brain. The severity of the condition can vary widely from person to person, so it is important for therapists to be able to understand how a person’s motor skills have been affected, and offer treatment that takes into account both context and child-focused therapy. The research study was conducted along with Mary Law, a professor at McMaster University’s School of Rehabilitation Science, and was funded by the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research as well as the United-States-based National Institutes of Health.

U of A sex, drugs, alcohol statistics highlighted in college health survey Hayley Dunning NEWS STAFF

University of Alberta students are stressed and listless, according to a new campus-wide health survey. The comprehensive National College Health Association survey was the first of its kind conducted at the U of A. The questions were based on a standardized set designed by the American College Health Association, which allows the results from the U of A to be compared to institutions across Canada and the US. Statistics for mental health were one of the biggest results, with the U of A students being the most depressed compared to the aggregate data of all surveys from 2010. Over 50 per cent of respondents said that in the last 12 months they felt things were hopeless and nearly seven per cent had seriously considered suicide. While this data is not directly comparable to 2010 results, and may be the result of a trend across all institutions, survey co-ordinator Jameela Murji says the statistics confirm the need for action. “This further re-affirms some of the anecdotal information we’ve been hearing about mental health on our campus. The statistics (are) good in that we can back it up and there can be a serious effort to do something about it,” Murji said.

The survey also determined a large discrepancy in the perceived and actual use of drugs and alcohol on campus. Seventy-two per cent of students believed their colleagues had used marijuana in the past month, but the actual use was less than nine per cent. Perceived alcohol consumption was also 30 per cent higher than actual use, but binge drinking statistics were high, with over 30 per cent of respondents reporting consuming more than five drinks in one sitting within the last two weeks. However, the survey also investigated protective measures, such as avoiding drinking games and using a designated driver, and found that most students used at least one method to prevent injury to themselves while partying. The results are still being processed, in the hope that new initiatives can be directed towards groups that showed particularly high risk when engaging in certain behaviors. For example, more than half of the students reported using a condom or other protective barrier when having vaginal intercourse in the past month, and Murji wonders whether this varies by residence type. “There’s this perception about students in residence: they’re living away from home, they might be

wanting to try out new experiences, they’re living in co-ed buildings as well — what does this mean in terms of sexual activity, in terms of condom usage?” Health and exercise was another important area, with almost a third doing no moderate-intensity cardio or aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes in the past week, and only 14 per cent reported eating enough servings of fruits and vegetables per day. This has led Murji and her team to come up with a “Heroes for Health” challenge, where groups of students create proposals for tackling one of the key areas highlighted in the survey. The winning team will receive $5,000 to implement their plan on campus. “It’s easy for us to say ‘we should do this or this,’ but if it doesn’t come from students it’s not always sustainable or doesn’t always have the best impact. Having students directly engaged in this process, I think could be really interesting,” Murji said. Murji hopes the results will not be left in a drawer, and there are plans to promote the survey on campus with posters and a website detailing the results. The survey will be repeated every two years to track changes and assess the success of new programs and services.