Coming back from a stroke

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Krista Davidson
Published on June 24, 2015
Rehabilitative research could help patients recover lost abilities. Standing, walking and speaking are everyday functions most of us take for granted, unless you’re a recovering stroke patient.

Stroke, which is the third leading cause of death in Canada, is the sudden loss of brain function caused by the interruption of blood flow or the rupture of blood vessels in the brain. It can affect your ability to see, speak and walk.

It’s one of the most disabling disorders for adults in North America.Michelle Ploughman of Memorial University’s faculty of medicine and a team of interdisciplinary researchers are conducting research that will help stroke patients recover many of the physical and cognitive functions affected by stroke.The research could lead to a remarkable breakthrough for stroke patients.Operating out of the Recovery and Performance Lab at the L.A. Miller Centre in St. John’s, Ploughman’s team is a blend of honours, master’s and doctoral students in areas including psychology, physiotherapy, kinesiology and clinical epidemiology. Each discipline is contributing to the recovery of patients.One of those students is a physiotherapist and master’s student with the faculty of medicine, Jennifer Shears. Shears is researching two methods of sit-to-stand treatment to achieve symmetry, which is often the first task a recovering patient must learn.

One method promotes compensating for the weak side while the other promotes full recovery through rehabilitation. Shears’ research is supported by the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research.

“Sit-to-stand is a task that most people don’t think about, but the neuromuscular co-ordination required to get from sitting to standing is tremendous, and the power to lift your body weight using your legs is challenging,” said Ploughman.

The research is so innovative the team had to enlist the help of MUN’s technical services department to design and build a customized bench with an adjustable mechanism that would provide patients with the right support, regardless of disability level, height and weight.

Ploughman, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Rehabilitation, Neuroplasticity and Brain Recovery, is also conducting research that promotes increased physical and cognitive recovery in stroke patients. Her research is supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery.

The project is one of the first in Canada to combine both vigorous physical and cognitive activity in the rehabilitative process with the aim of restoring pre-stroke functions.

Now working with its third group of patients, the program follows an intense 10-week schedule. Fourteen people have already finished the program. While there’s much research yet to do, the preliminary results are promising.

“People are improving and we’re able to get more recovery from this program,” said Ploughman.

Patients are not only making a comeback from stroke, but many are continuing their exercise regime, which could significantly reduce the recurrence of another stroke.

Interested in learning more or want to be considered for the project? Contact Michelle Ploughman, (709) 777-2099.

Krista Davidson is a communications co-ordinator for the Office of the Vice-President (Research) at Memorial University. Email kdavidson@mun.ca

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