Improving rehabilitation services for stroke patients is the mission of Professor Beth Armstrong and her team at the Communication Disorders Research Group at ECU.
Regaining independence and the ability to communicate are important milestones for patients recovering from stroke or traumatic brain injury.
But with access to rehabilitation services often limited, some patients struggle to regain their quality of life.
Professor Armstrong says ensuring patients feel empowered when they return home is critical to reducing depression and withdrawal from society.
As the leader of two studies into rehabilitation services, Professor Armstrong hopes the research will have a positive impact on the recovery of patients and at a policy level.
‘Use it or lose it’
The Very Early Rehabilitation in Speech (VERSE) Trial for Aphasia after Stroke is a NHMRC-funded research project based on enhancing the natural language and speech recovery processes of the brain.
The project employs the principles of ‘use it or lose it’ and ‘use it the right way’.
“We want to change people’s ability to communicate early in their recovery so that they don’t become dependent on others to communicate for them,” Professor Armstrong says.
Her team has developed a best-practice therapy package that provides more than 20 hours of therapy in the early stages of rehabilitation – traditionally they might receive around 14 minutes in the first few weeks.
VERSE Clinical Director Associate Professor Erin Godecke says: “If we can assist stroke patients early in their rehabilitation, they will be less dependent on the healthcare system and not as likely to lose their independence or withdraw from the community.”
VERSE’s therapy package can be delivered via tele-rehab to any location, with some patients choosing to access the therapy via Skype.
The aim, says Associate Professor Godecke, is to improve service delivery, so it’s important the package allows patients to ‘up and go’ early in their recovery.
If the communication therapy provided through VERSE is successful, the team hopes to develop the therapy as best practice and build it into policy at the national level.
With several clinical trial sites in Australia and two in New Zealand comprising 246 participants, VERSE will be the largest trial of this kind in the Asia-Pacific region.
‘Aboriginal patients rarely receive rehabilitation’
Professor Beth Armstrong and her research team also received NHMRC funding in late 2016 for their project ‘Enhancing rehabilitation for brain injury for Aboriginal Australians: Healing Right Way’.
While VERSE focuses on improving patients’ speech impairment through therapy, this research project aims to increase access to rehabilitation services for Aboriginal brain‑injury survivors.
Professor Armstrong says hospital staff are being trained in cultural security practice surrounding brain injury specifically.
Aboriginal brain injury coordinators will be employed across Western Australia as part of the intervention.
“The Missing Voices project confirmed that Aboriginal patients rarely receive rehabilitation after they’ve left the hospital,” Professor Armstrong says.
“We are hoping the Aboriginal coordinator will act as a bridge between the hospital and community, and will help patients navigate the healthcare system.”
With 13 partners and the clinical trial expected to be completed in 2021, the research team anticipates an increased uptake of rehabilitation services and, in time, the employment of liaison coordinators across the country.
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