Dr. Andy Kerr
Accessible rehabilitation technology for stroke recovery

Area of expertise: Rehabilitation

Recovery of function after stroke is driven by neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to alter its structure and function to learn new skills and recover old skills. While neuroplasticity is understood to be better in the young it is a property of the neural system that endures throughout our lifespan and can be enhanced by activity and experience; movement, sensation and thought. This underpins many of the approaches to stroke rehabilitation with research findings coalescing around central tenets of task repetition, enriched environments and cognitive engagement.

This potential for recovery is, however, undermined by an inadequate rehabilitation workforce, which is unable to meet even minimal guidelines for rehabilitation intensity (45 minutes per day) in high income countries like the UK and which is essentially absent in low/medium income countries.

Technology like virtual reality and robotics offers promising solutions by enabling individuals to carry out their own rehabilitation, but there is a danger that technology could lead to more unequal access to rehabilitation through designs that require skilled professionals, are too big or too expensive for mass use or are simply not user friendly or enjoyable.

Developing accessible rehabilitation technologies is a primary aim of the rehabilitation engineering group at Strathclyde to support more intensive, stimulating rehabilitation that everyone can experience.

The contribution of the EPSRC CDT in Medical Devices and Health Technologies

The Centre for Doctorial Training (CDT) supported the development of two new rehabilitation technologies, a sit to stand training system developed and tested for geriatric rehabilitation and a low cost upper limb de-weighting system for home use among stroke survivors which has received commercialisation funding in preparation for a patent application.

These experiences helped shape a successful (ca. £0.5M) application to the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust to fully equip a technology based rehabilitation clinic in Strathclyde’s Wolfson Centre based Department of Biomedical Engineering to accelerate the design process through frequent and intensive user interaction and a co-creation model.