Innovations in stroke recovery

Professor Julie Bernhardt talks about innovations in stroke rehab.

Exciting innovations are happening in the world of stroke recovery and rehabilitation. To find out more, we spoke with Professor Julie Bernhardt, Principal Research Fellow, The Florey and Director of the Centre for Research Excellence in Stroke Rehabilitation and Recovery.

Some of the key advances in stroke recovery and rehabilitation involve the personalisation of treatment and rehabilitation for people with stroke.
Professor Bernhardt says, “We’re hoping to get better information about how each person’s genetics and personal characteristics contribute to their recovery.
“Once we have a clearer understanding of what we should be doing with whom, we’ll be able to deliver more effective, targeted treatments to the right people.”

New technology

Technology is becoming a key aid in stroke recovery. Examples include:
  • Wearable devices that help people track their walking and other physical activity. Some new devices monitor blood pressure and heart rhythms, making them very attractive for stroke survivors who need to keep an eye on these health numbers.
  • Dedicated websites. For example, the National Stroke Foundation’s enableme website is an example of how Internet-based technology can put survivors in charge of their own recovery through knowledge, interaction and support.
  • Training systems. For example, the Jintronix training system combines evidence-based treatments, virtual games and motion-tracking sensors into a fun and effective tool for physical rehabilitation.
  • Connecting with your support network. Apps like Thrivor let you keep up to date with appointments, share updates on how you are, and let your friends and family know how they can help.
Although these developments are promising, Bernhardt says it’s not yet know how much benefit these technologies have.
“I don’t think we yet understand what impact they might have, but just the fact that they exist and people can choose to use them is real progress in the recovery phase.”
person looking at watch

Innovative research

“Attention is now turning to how we can support people after they leave hospital… we really weren’t looking at that before,” says Bernhardt.
These were some of the key areas she highlighted:
  • Time frames. "We know we can intervene at different points along the recovery pathway, but we’re interested in seeing if there’s a window earlier at which we should be helping people towards their eventual recovery. We’ve undertaken a huge clinical trial studying this. It was a world first and ended up an international study across five countries in 52 hospitals."
  • Exercise. "A new national physiotherapy consortium called ACTIONs has been formed to drive changes in physical activity and fitness training while people are in hospital, and hopefully when they go home. My group is also working in the exercise-based area, to see if exercise can prime the brain for learning."
  • Fatigue. "Can physical activity help reduce the impact of devastating fatigue on people who have had a stroke? We’ve listened to stroke survivors, who tell us this is one of their major problems, and we’re starting to work out how we can address it." 
  • Centre of Research Excellence. "Another innovation I have to mention is that we now have a Centre of Research Excellence funded by the National Medical Health and Research Council (NMHRC)….Its whole purpose is to work on stroke rehabilitation and brain recovery. We’ll be working across all areas, from understanding stroke neurobiology to translating effective treatments into practice in the clinic or home and into policy."
Advances in technology and research mean the future is looking positive. 
"We’re on the cusp of something really different, I think – of real change in stroke rehabilitation, and that’s very exciting.”

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