Standing up for stroke rehabilitation

Rehab Med PhD student receives AIHS award to study and promote functionality in stroke patients

Amanda McCarthy - 31 August 2016

The brain is the most important part of our body. It manages and controls all of our major functions-thinking, feeling, moving and speaking. Things we do every day. Now, imagine your ability to complete one or more of those functions became limited, or at worst, was taken away from you. That's what it's like for the hundreds of thousands of individuals in Canada who have experienced a stroke.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada estimates that more than 400,000 Canadians are living with long-term effects of stroke-a number that is on the rise. While the effects of a stroke can be debilitating, Victor Ezeugwu is looking to get people back on their feet-literally.

"Because stroke affects mobility, my research focuses on new ways to reduce sitting time in the first six months after stroke," says Ezeugwu, who is currently completing his PhD in Rehabilitation Science in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta and is set to graduate in approximately one to two years.

"Sitting for long periods of time can affect health. It reduces function because the muscles tend to shut down if they aren't used," he says. "We want to make sure that people who have experienced a stroke are working to regain their functionality."

Ezeugwu, who is originally from Nigeria where he spent 13 years working with individuals who have suffered a stroke, has created a specialized study in hopes of helping individuals conquer the sedentary lifestyle that may occur after a stroke. The study, Stand Up Frequently From Stroke (STUFFS), will have participants completing light intensity movement throughout the day, about every half hour, in hopes of reducing sitting time. Patients participate outside of formal therapy and are monitored/followed-up with for approximately 16 weeks.

"We break it up into phases. The first week involves activity monitoring to get to know the patient's usual activity behaviour. After that we review the activity data to identify areas of high sedentary behaviour and work with the patient to develop action plans to 'sit less and move more,'" He explains. "The intervention phase lasts for eight weeks and also involves activity monitoring-using a wrist-worn activity monitor which serves as a motivational tool and also tracks adherence to the intervention.

There are also post-intervention and follow-up phases to reassess activity behaviour and function to evaluate change and retention, respectively

Ezeugwu's research with stroke rehabilitation won him the Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Clinician Fellowship Award this past July. The Clinician Fellowship Award provides support to health professionals looking to take on or expand on clinical research pertaining to health issues in the community that need to be addressed. With stroke being at a high prevalence in Canada, Ezeugwu's research fit the bill.

"Aside from functionality issues, sitting for too long when you've experienced a stroke can also produce new adverse health issues, such as heart disease and unstable levels of blood glucose and insulin, which are risk factors for the recurrence of a stroke," he explains.

"We're trying to get people to make that transition from sitting to standing and taking steps. We want them to become confident that they can actually reduce the amount of time spent being sedentary."

The study is an important milestone in Ezeugwu's career, and he has no plans of slowing down when it comes to his research.

"The research we are doing now is with a single group and we are looking at feasibility. The next stage will be a control group. The hope is to compare the outcomes to get the best results possible."

And when it comes to his career goals? There's no stopping him there, either.

"I'm going to be completing a post-doctoral program after I'm done with my rehabilitation science degree. My career path is extending toward becoming a clinician-scientist. It's exciting," he smiles.

But before he can move on to bigger plans, Ezeugwu is focusing on making sure his study is successful. Winning the AIHS award is definitely a step in the right direction.

"I'm grateful to have gotten this award, because it will really help with my research and moving it forward," he says. "I encourage all research students to get out there and apply for awards like this, because it really does make a difference.

There are a lot of opportunities out there. So don't give up."