The overall focus of the Applied Neuro-Technologies Lab is to study the cognitive contributions of complex, everyday activities and incorporate innovative technologies. As a result, our work can be described as applied clinical research that is built on an interdisciplinary and collaborative model.
A fundamental belief that underscores our research is the need for innovation and/or identifying new methods to address clinical needs in neurological rehabilitation, or more simply put, we “look outside the box”. As such, much of our work incorporates innovative technologies (i.e., virtual reality simulation, functional near infrared spectroscopy) and the novel incorporation of theoretical models, techniques and approaches that have evolved or been employed in other disciplines. This has resulted in the opportunity to work with a diverse group of collaborators that have specialties such as transportation research, biomedical engineering, computer sciences, cognitive psychology, neurology, and rehabilitation medicine. Using this multidisciplinary approach, we actively work to demonstrate that successful translation of any novel tool (i.e., new hardware, new paper and pencil task or new way of thinking) requires a systematic research approach that objectively examines the capacities of the tool balanced with the identified needs of the user (i.e., patient, clinician).
A second fundamental component of our research is our commitment to studying topics which can directly benefit either patients or clinicians. Hence, applied studies that examine functional behaviors such as driving capacity, developing portable brain imaging systems that are usable to clinicians and examining complex cognitive constructs (i.e., multi-tasking) that are fundamental to vocational and/ or independent living, are some examples of my research focus.
A third fundamental component to our lab’s research is that, while our study populations and research interests may change, all our research efforts share a common approach in which traditional techniques and clinical assumptions are questioned and either novel or modern validated techniques for similar populations are considered. Students are encouraged to research clinical populations and topics outside the current scope of projects within the lab when these projects have the potential to apply our research elsewhere or result in an enrichment of the skills and techniques within the lab.
Primary lines of research
Driving capacity following neurological compromise
For clinicians working with individuals with neurological compromise, the task of determining whether they are ready to return to driving can be daunting. This critical decision requires a balance of understanding the potential risk (to both the individual and others) and the impact to that individual’s quality of life. The body of existing research has defined the physical, visual and more recently, cognitive demands of driving. Yet, clinical translation of this work remains limited. Here at the ANT Lab, we have strived to push forward several components of this literature, including 1) defining cognitive contributions of driving across neurological populations, 2) investigating the role of driving simulation for evaluating driving capacity and 3) investigating improved methods of driving outcome. Our long term goal is to better define driving outcome and contribute to changes in our clinical approach of determining driving capacity for individuals with neurological compromise.
Development and application of novel technologies for neurorehabilitation
“My interest in novel technologies comes from both my clinical experiences in rehabilitation medicine and my research work using virtual reality simulation. In general, I hold the viewpoint that technology has already changed the way we live and the way we study medicine in countless ways, as such it is incumbent for psychologist to also seek the benefits of new technologies for improving our field. However, the task of increasing clinician acceptance of technology to the study of human behavior continues to be a challenge, Specifically, I hold my own area of specialty, neuropsychology, as an example of that dilemma, in that we continue to rely on traditional paper and pencil tasks.
In my own research I have focused on two specific technologies, virtual reality simulation (VR) and functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). My work in this area underscores my interest in a multidisciplinary approach to conducting research, and my commitment to training future neuropsychologist who are receptive to the inclusion of modern technologies for both their clinical and research endeavors.”
-Dr. Maria Schultheis
Cognitive contributions of functional everyday activities.
A large body of literature exists that has defined our understanding of various cognitive domains and the clinical tools available to assess capacity in these domains. A much smaller literature exists on tools that help predict an individual’s functional outcome. In fact, a major criticism of clinical neuropsychological tests is the lack of ecological validity offered by these measures. Furthermore, while understanding the intricacies of brain functioning and behavior are critical areas of our field, it is also relevant to know that a one-to-one relationship may not exist when we are dealing with a compromised brain. Our lab aims to show that behavioral interventions can offer a significant improvement in quality of life, long before any physiological brain changes can be observed. As such, our interest in this area has focused on behavioral observations, in conjunction with new technologies that can support actual performance (i.e., fNIRS) and/or new clinical measures that increase the ecological validity of our assessment (i.e., virtual reality)