Brain tumors in children are treated in a number of ways, including chemotherapy, resection and radiotherapy at the outset of treatment. Radiotherapy in particular can have significant effects on the developing brain, resulting in neurodevelopmental challenges for a child as he/she gets farther away from the conclusion of treatment. Consequences include impaired executive function, memory and attention, and reduced processing speed.
Researchers at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research, including Matthew C. Hocking, PhD, are collecting data on long-term brain tumor survivors to help identify post-treatment consequences so that appropriate support can be provided to the families of these children.
Investigators are conducting a pilot intervention study on cognitive remediation in long-term brain tumor survivors. In the study, survivors complete a computerized cognitive remediation program that presents a battery of game-like tasks targeting working memory. Children need to focus and pay attention to patterns on the computer, which they then need to recreate. The complexity of the patterns increases as the program progresses. Early results indicate that this computer program improves working memory in the short term.
Half of the families enrolled in this study are randomized to receive an additional parental problem-solving intervention, in which parents are provided strategies to help them better manage their child’s neurodevelopmental challenges. In this component of the intervention, parents identify specific goals related to their survivor’s functioning (e.g., bringing home all materials needed for homework, improved social functioning) and work to reach these goals using management strategies provided by the researchers.
Findings from this study can help in the development of intervention programs that provide parents with effective skills to manage the extra demands faced by long-term childhood brain tumor survivors. The goal of these interventions is to improve the quality of life for both the brain tumor survivors and their caregivers and families.