Breaking through barriers to recovery

Dr Dana Wong, the winner of La Trobe’s 2020 Research Engagement and Impact Excellence Award, works to improve the lives of survivors of acquired brain injury and their families.

Dr Wong is an Associate Professor and Clinical Neuropsychologist in the School of Psychology and Public Health. She also runs the eNACT Clinic at the La Trobe Psychology Clinic, which provides rehabilitation services to the community, clinical training for postgraduate psychology students and an embedded clinical research program.

The over-arching aim of Dr Wong’s work is to improve quality of life and functioning in the community for people with an acquired brain injury. People with these injuries often face challenges with memory, attention, problem-solving, and completing day-to-day activities.

Dr Wong notes that her work builds on current models of how memory works, including ‘how we take on board new information, store it over time, and then retrieve it when it’s needed.’

Once you have key information, she says you can form hypotheses about what support and interventions might help with those specific memory difficulties and test that out.

The eNACT clinic at La Trobe is the perfect focal point for this kind of work. The clinic unites researchers and clinicians to improve understanding of how brain injuries affect individuals, treatment options, and clinical practice more broadly.

"The main activity I do at the eNACT clinic is called the VaLiANT group program. It’s a group for people with an acquired brain injury. The idea is to help them with participating in things that are important to them and addressing cognitive and emotional barriers to doing those things."

For many, this comes down to achievable, weekly goals.

"In each area of life we think about what is most important. It might be going for a thirty-minute walk every second day. It might be connecting with your spouse by giving them a compliment."

Looking forward, Dr Wong has clear picture of how she can shape her research to continue improving outcomes for people with an acquired brain injury.

"We need to get better at designing research trials that actually evaluate complex interventions that do address the whole person. That’s where I see the future going – getting better research designs to capture the complexity of recovery and rehabilitation, so we can optimise those for the individual."