After a stroke: regaining mobility

Bill McIlroy testing a persons ability to regain mobilityFor stroke victims, fear of falling can be an insurmountable hurdle to recovery. Kinesiology professor Bill McIlroy saw the effects of that fear after his grandmother broke her hip, and he’s determined to smooth the path for others struggling to regain mobility.

A senior scientist and co-site director of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery, he also holds the position of senior scientist and mobility team leader at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

McIlroy left a Canada Research Chair at the University of Toronto to come to Waterloo, a decision based on this university’s “rich history of focusing on the use of therapeutic exercise to improve health outcomes.” With programs already in place for assisting the recovery of cancer and cardiac disease patients, Waterloo offers new opportunities for collaboration, he says. He has already begun working on a co-operative venture with colleagues at Freeport Health Centre in Kitchener. 

The goal of his research team: “Find the best way to improve balance and walking after a stroke to maximize recovery.

“We’re looking for a common therapy to address both cardiovascular and central nervous system function to reduce the risk of another stroke, and to encourage the use of limbs affected by the stroke to improve mobility.”

McIlroy’s team is working on development of novel exercise programs and equipment geared to stroke victims. Among the possibilities are a treadmill that provides biofeedback for the user and a recumbent step machine with settings that encourage use of the damaged limb.

“Stroke victims usually can’t walk far or fast enough to get their heart rate up, so we need better tools. We also need to start such an exercise program early after a stroke — within the first couple of weeks — when the central nervous system is most adaptable.”