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02-11 Student develops promising mobile app to help veterans with PTSD night terrors

Student develops promising mobile app to help veterans with PTSD night terrors

The use of mobile applications has become an increasingly popular tool in the therapeutic community, as many clinicians have turned to them for making therapy more accessible and efficient for people with mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, mobile applications are available on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website for professionals and the public for several different types of mental health problems.

Last September, Tyler J. Skluzacek, senior at Macalester College, and his team (“The Cure”) were awarded Best Mobile Application for Clinicians and $1,500 by judges at HackDC 2015 — a 36-hour hackathon competition for developing mobile applications for helping veterans and clinicians combat PTSD. Skluzacek and his team developed a smartwatch application designed to track and disrupt the symptoms preceding a night terror to help improve veterans’ sleep.

The HackDC 2015 competition, held last September at the Richard J. Ernst Community Cultural Center at NOVA Annandale, part of the Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) system, brought together university students, clinical experts, veterans and families, technology companies and sponsoring organizations to develop mobile applications to help improve the lives of veterans with PTSD. Participants were encouraged to develop mobile applications areas of need (e.g., early detection, timely access to therapy, addressing alcohol and drug abuse, etc.).

Inspiration for MyBivy

PTSD is a mental disorder that develops in response to a traumatic event, affecting between 11 to 20 percent of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans and about 11 out of every 100 Gulf War veterans in a given year, according to the National Center for PTSD at the VA. Nightmares — frightening dreams that occur in the aftermath of a traumatic event — are among the most common symptoms of PTSD. One study found that 52 percent of combat veterans with PTSD who served in Vietnam reported having nightmares fairly often.

Skluzacek and his team, “The Cure,” are credited with writing the code for a smartwatch and Smartphone application they called MyBivy, which he explained was short for the military term bivouac — a temporary safe-haven that allows a restful night’s sleep. In an interview with KARE11, a news station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Skluzacek discussed his inspiration for developing the application — his father, Sgt. First Class Patrick Skluzacek, is an Iraq War veteran who is affected by PTSD night terrors and is often startled awake in the early hours of morning. Skluzacek said that he entered HackDC to develop a mobile application that would help his dad sleep better.

Kickstarter campaign and development of MyBivy

Skluzacek’s Kickstarter campaign was launched in October 2015 for funding to create the MyBivy mobile application to track veterans’ movements while they sleep to identify and prevent night terrors. He now has over 694 supporters and has raised $26,775 in support of the development and testing of the application. MyBivy will use intensive body tracking and Veterans Affairs doctor notifications to improve veterans’ sleep. Although MyBivy is currently in the development stages, the aim of the mobile application is to identify and predict when veterans have pre-terror symptoms and disrupt the symptoms using touch (i.e., vibrations) and sound stimuli without disrupting sleep.

Skluzacek and his team are currently working with sleep doctors from a number of universities and hospitals — including Stanford, the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic — who have reached out and contributed to developing the MyBivy software. A Minneapolis-based software company, MentorMate, has also provided Skluzacek and his team with $20,000 in development credits and will assist them in releasing the application in March of this year for testing the smartphone application in clinical trials.

Skluzacek’s hope is to have a smartwatch with the MyBivy application programmed on every veteran’s wrist. “My team and I kind of have a saying right now that my team and I won’t sleep until the veterans can,” Skluzacek told KARE11. As post-combat sleep disorders are a major concern for veterans, MyBivy could prove to be beneficial for helping veterans with PTSD, as well as others affected by this disorder, resolve nightmares more effectively so they can gain a more restful night of sleep.

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego provides adolescents aged 12 to 17 with behavioral treatments for substance abuse, mental illnesses including PTSD and co-occurring disorders, which are individualized to meet each adolescent’s needs. For more information about the treatment of trauma or about our programs, please contact our 24/7 helpline for further assistance.

About the Author

Amanda Habermann is a Content Writer for the Sovereign Health Group. Graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. Her master’s thesis was written on, “The effect of parental codependency on elementary school children’s social and emotional development,” and her research has been accepted for poster presentations at the Western Psychological Association. She brings to the team her extensive clinical background and skills in psychological testing and assessment, clinical diagnosis, research and treatment and recovery techniques for patients with mental illness. She is a passionate researcher and enjoys staying up to date on the newest topics in the field. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at news@sovhealth.com.

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