3Qs: Taking a new approach to stroke rehabilitation

Prudence Plummer-D’Amato, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Northeastern University, was recently awarded a grant from the American Heart Association to develop a new approach for teaching stroke victims how to walk. The four-year project will require patients to complete challenging mental tasks while undergoing physical therapy. She will conduct the research at the New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Woburn, Mass., with Northeastern Professor of Biology Dagmar Sternad, a neuroscience researcher with appointments in electrical and computer engineering and physics.

What is the major problem being addressed in this study?

Our research focuses on determining the best rehabilitation activities for stroke victims in order to maximize their ability to walk again. After a stroke, shifting attention to having a conversation or reading street signs while walking can be difficult, which may limit a person’s capability to participate in social activities outside of the home.

What specific questions are you asking and how will you attempt to answer them?

We will compare two types of walking rehabilitation programs. One is a traditional physical therapy program and the other is an intervention program that includes walking and completing other tasks at the same time, such as counting or responding to words. The goal is to find out which one improves walking under attention-demanding conditions. We will also determine whether the amount of walking people do in their daily lives changes as a result of the treatment.

Beyond treating individual stroke victims, what are the overall goals of your study? Where does it fit into the larger scope of rehabilitation?

Our goal is to identify and develop optimal rehabilitation treatments that will improve functional mobility and quality of life in community-dwelling individuals who suffer a stroke. Through this research, we will achieve greater understanding of how rehabilitation impacts recovery of real-world walking, thereby allowing therapists to develop better intervention strategies that will minimize a stroke victim’s disability.