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Thomas Lindén

The environment in which patients are cared for in a hospital influences their rehabilitation process. Of this, Thomas Lindén, associate professor and specialist physician in neuroscience and psychiatry at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital, is absolutely sure.
– There are many and well-founded studies that show that one can influence patients' healing through action that transcends the accepted medical framework. Biologic interventions are certainly not the only way of healing damage to the human consciousness and intellect. Myself, I've worked with research projects at the Sahlgrenska Centre for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation (CBR), where patients with various kinds of brain damage, such as stroke and Parkinson's Disease, have been doing rhythmics and listening to music with favourable impact on their health.
– In this context, one often talks about research on a so-called enriched environment. It is for instance possible to create this through various kinds of physical and social activities. Another way, which I personally find very exciting, is what one calls sensory stimulation. It may revolve around various types of culture activities, but also around creating more vivid environments in the hospital.

So the hospital environment may have significance for healing processes?
– Absolutely. There are strong studies that reveal the importance of environments that stimulate the senses. For instance, in a very famous study one investigated a hospital room where half of the patients were lying in their beds with a view of a brick wall, while the other half were able to gaze at a forest. The study clearly showed that the patients who had the more pleasant view used less painkillers, needed fewer days in the ward and were in better shape when they were discharged.
– The environmental aspect is unfortunately something which one rarely reflects upon within the health care sector. There are traditions and conventions that stipulate what a hospital environment should be like. This may concern anything from the colour scales of the rooms and corridors to what kind of food should be served – how it should taste and what it should contain. However, research does show that innovative thinking within the area can influence patients' possibilities of recuperating both physically and mentally. One has also noted this at the University of Gothenburg and for instance at Chalmers there is a centre for research in build up of health care – Centre for Healthcare Architecture. This not only focuses on technical aspects, such as how you build premises in order to limit the spread of disease, but also on the very questions of architecture and design.
– A current example worthy of thought in this context is the nowadays very strong trend within health care politics towards all patients having their own rooms. But it is rather the case that research indicates that patients' recovery is not stimulated by loneliness, but conversely, through social contacts.

How did you come to work within this research area?
– My interest was stirred around ten years ago when I studied problems around memory and cognition in stroke patients, wondering how rehabilitation could be improved. I read research results on the healing of animals that were living in so-called stimulating and non-stimulating environments. It was striking how strong medical impact various environmental factors were shown to have. Since this was a case of laboratory experiments, we are talking of measurable, hard data – there is in other words no doubt that this is having an effect. The question is rather how one should translate in productive ways such results to a clinical environment for people.
– One can observe that there are many exciting and promising research results, but there is so much left to do. It is indisputably the case that there are strong effects that one cannot today fully understand the consequences of. Moreover, the findings that do exist have only to a limited extent been translated into practice. One problem is that there is much gathered data, but that few models for how the knowledge might be applied in clinical activity have been designed.

You are of the opinion that research in the area demands broadened cross-disciplinary perspectives?
– Unfortunately, we have today a scientific system which does not sufficiently reward researchers within various disciplines to move outside or even up to the boundaries of their respective fields of knowledge. There are old structures that chain us, not least the distinction between faculties and the rules on applications for research grants. Thus, there lies a major challenge here for researchers within various subjects – be they in natural science, social science, the humanities or fine arts – to move outside their "comfort zone" and create new contacts across traditional subject boundaries. Concurrently, it is, as stated, a structural problem, the solutions to which largely are dependent on conscious strategies and action on an overarching level.

Personal facts

Employment: senior consultant in neurology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital with an orientation towards stroke health care. Specialist in neurology and psychiatry, as well as former director of the Department of Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Gothenburg and visiting professor at the Florey Institutes of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia
Age: 50 years old
Family:
Married to Elisabeth with three fantastic daughters who have just recently become adults
Research interests: our consciousness, thinking, intellect and emotional life – how they are influenced by brain damage and neurological diseases as well as how one can stimulate enhancement of these, not least after disease and damage, where the currently most interesting thing is physical activity, enriched environment and cultural activities.
Driving force: the perspective of developing and enhancing health care and rehabilitation, but also improving e.g. learning at school, development of groups and organisations or personal development in individuals
Leisure interests: technical gadgets, fruit cultivation, language, history and culture, outdoor activities

[Interview by Daniel Brodén and published 2013-04-23]

Contact Information

Centre for Culture and Health

Box 200, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Page Manager: Lovisa Aijmer|Last update: 4/26/2013
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