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Handheld computers as assistive technology for individuals with cognitive impairment related to multiple sclerosis

, University of Virginia, United States

University of Virginia . Awarded


The purpose of this study was to determine whether people who have cognitive impairment related to multiple sclerosis can learn to operate handheld computers in managing memory and organization tasks, whether they can retain this learning over time, and whether they can utilize these devices to significantly improve functional performance in everyday activities. Twenty individuals with M.S.-related cognitive impairment were enrolled in the study, which was designed to provide an eight-week non-treatment period, followed by a four-session training period and an eight-week post-training period. All participants were provided with a Palm Zire 31 PDA on which they were trained. Assessments of functional performance, satisfaction with functional performance and level of handicap were conducted prior to the non-treatment period, just prior to training, at the conclusion of training and eight weeks after training. A survey and questionnaire were also conducted on final assessment, and measures were taken of actual PDA use during the post-training period, and of participants' ability to demonstrate operation of basic PDA functions.

Data analysis showed that individuals with cognitive impairment related to M.S. can learn to operate basic PDA functions and retain this skill for at least eight weeks. Using a PDA significantly improves functional performance and satisfaction with functional performance of everyday tasks. Using a PDA also significantly reduces level of handicap. These gains are maintained eight weeks after the training period. Additionally, participants reported that they found the devices useful and incorporated them into their daily routines, citing improved organization and self-efficacy that positively impacted their daily lives.

These findings show that a brief, multi-modal training intervention using consumer PDAs can be an effective cognitive rehabilitation therapy. This is the first assistive technology for cognition study to show functional performance gains over time in the community and the first to use unmodified Palm PDAs operated by individuals with cognitive impairment as a rehabilitation tool. It is also the first study of any kind to demonstrate an effective rehabilitation intervention for cognitive disability related to multiple sclerosis. As such the study opens doorways to new clinical practice and research avenues that may improve functional independence for individuals with cognitive disability in their work, home and community settings.


Gentry, T. Handheld computers as assistive technology for individuals with cognitive impairment related to multiple sclerosis. Ph.D. thesis, University of Virginia. Retrieved August 3, 2020 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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