Monday December 12, 2016
The Rehabilitation Research Program (www.rehabresearchprogram.com) recently hosted an Open House at their lab in the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, British Columbia’s largest rehabilitation facility providing inpatient and outpatient clinical and support services. Faculty and Graduate students showcased their research in Stroke, Spinal Cord Injury, Concussion, Robotics, and Assistive Technologies to approximately 100 clinicians, researchers and members of the community.
“We wanted to show people in our community our current research, let them get their hands on things, so they can get a feel for the knowledge we are trying to create and the problems that we are trying to solve,” said Dr. Janice Eng, Director of the Rehab Research Program (RRP). Research conducted by the RRP focuses on improving rehabilitation for individuals with stroke, improving the quality of life for individuals who rely on power mobility devices, and to mitigate the effects of secondary complications. The knowledge generated through the Rehabilitation Research Program is an essential component of Vancouver Coastal Health’s mandate to advance knowledge and practices that help people to maximize their abilities after injury or disability.
According to Dr. Eng, “innovations in mobility sensing, balance training, and robotics can be tremendously helpful when rehabilitating after a stroke, amputation, injury or other disability.” For example, we know that stroke is a leading cause of disability and death worldwide, and that people who do not regain walking ability after stroke live shorter lives. What we don’t yet know is why 1 in 4 strokes occur in people who have previously had a stroke, or what the optimal dosage of exercise is for neural and motor recovery. Multiple studies in the Lab are testing different technological, exercise and balance training programs in order to fill in this knowledge gap and to increase the rate of return to walking. A particularly popular demonstration at the Research Open House was the Powered Robotic Exoskeleton, an external device that is worn by a patient and controlled by a clinician that allows a person to walk before they physically could on their own.
Attendees got to navigate obstacle courses in scooters, power and manual wheelchairs to learn firsthand how difficult mobility devices can be to operate efficiently and safely. In fact, wheelchair users are at significant risk for further injury and social isolation if they are not sufficiently taught wheelchair skills. Unfortunately, training programs are not often available except in dedicated rehabilitation facilities. Members of the Rehab Research Program are testing a variety of technologies (including home monitoring, tablet computers, balance boards, and shared remote tele-operation for power wheelchairs) to drastically and cost-effectively improve the skill and safety of wheelchair users, wherever they may be located.
Other technologies are also being developed by the engineers in the Rehabilitation Research Program. After stroke, injury or other disability, it is common to experience spasms, tremors, clots, or longer term dysfunction of hands and arms. Some of these difficulties may be merely inconvenient; others may be severely debilitating or even life-threatening. Solutions being investigated by Lab include ‘smart’ compression garments that can suppress tremors while they enhance voluntary movements, and a Bionic Hand that is controlled using pressure sensors embedded in the sockets of the device. This Bionic Hand has already been tested by a Paralympic skier at the World’s first Cyborg Olympics this past October.
The Rehabilitation Research Program has grown into a 50+ member organization of talented faculty, researchers, graduate students, and staff; it is designated under the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and has partnerships with the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre. Anyone who missed the Open House but wants to learn more about how the Rehab Research Lab operates should write to the RRP Coordinator, Mary-Ellen Johnson at [email protected] or visit www.rehabresearchprogram.com.