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Home-delivered telerehabilitation to benefit local stroke patients

Wishlist’s investment into research is set to benefit local stroke patients from Caloundra to Gympie thanks to funding of $19,538 for a home-delivered telerehabilitation research program.

Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability, accounting for 133,000 bed days in Queensland Health in 2016/17. Many stroke survivors are still experiencing disabilities after returning home with 29% continuing rehabilitation in the community.

The first three months after a stroke is a crucial time for brain repair processes, however, a recent study found stroke survivors received alarmingly low levels of community rehabilitation in Queensland.

Working from the Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH), Physiotherapist Dr Ingrid Rosbergen, said that patients on average only received four hours of community rehabilitation in the critical three-month window.

“A lot of that is due to limited access in certain geographical areas or people have difficulties actually getting to the rehabilitation centres.

“People who have had a stroke have driving restrictions for a certain amount of time, and it’s a big strain on the caregivers,” she said.

This can limit functional recovery, as clients need to practice activities to get the brain changes to support recovery.

However, telerehabilitation delivered at home via the internet, could be the solution to these limiting factors. Instead of meeting with patients face to face, therapists can deliver rehabilitation virtually through the patient’s smartphone, tablet or computer anywhere, anytime.  

Dr Rosbergen said research shows about 80% of people now have the required technology.

“We will deliver the exercises through that platform. While I see you, I will explain to you how to do it and we will give you exercises to continue to do yourself.

“We’re able to provide that ability at home in the hope that we can increase the intensity. Because four hours overall is very little. You can’t expect recovery or brain changes if you have that little support,” she said.

Wishlist’s funding will allow Dr Rosbergen and a team of rehabilitation therapists and researchers to compare home-delivered telerehabilitation with face to face centre-based community rehabilitation, to see if it improves the time stroke survivors spend being physically active, and subsequent recovery outcomes.

Dr Rosbergen said the study will work with occupational therapists, physiotherapists and allied health assistants.

“We want to know, when we deliver telerehabilitation through computers or tablets to the people at home, are we just as effective? Are we more effective? Sometimes people are more inclined to do more when they’re at home, than when they go to a rehab centre.

“The plan is to have thirty people in each section. Thirty in the telerehabilitation arm and thirty in the community centre arm. There is already a fair bit of evidence that telerehabilitation works, but we’re really trying to look at it from a physical activity perspective.

“Research is really needed to get these innovations established, to prove the concept and to get clinicians to accept the concept and make practice changes so our stroke patients get the best care. That’s why Wishlist is doing such a great job.”

Eleven other projects have been given the green light as part of a $363,352 commitment to local research—a collaboration between Wishlist and the Sunshine Coast Hospital & Health Service’s Study, Education, Research Trust fund (SERTF).

Other projects include research into the effectiveness of mindfulness-based group interventions for mental health concerns in expectant mothers, continued investment into antimicrobial resistance due to antibiotic over-subscription, a study of emergency department presentations and treatment of falls among the elderly.

Wishlist has directed more than $1.5 million towards local research projects to support the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service.

As part of its mission, Wishlist recognises the need to support and encourage research activity hat contributes to improved healthcare outcomes for the Sunshine Coast and wider community and adds to the body of research knowledge.