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Interdisciplinary grant will focus on stroke rehabilitation

Interdisciplinary Grant Will Focus on Stroke Rehabilitation

Eric Hart, Brad Ferguson (both professors in SHP’s Health Psychology Department) and Niraj Arora in the neuroscience ICU have been awarded a $15,000 research grant from the National Academy of Neuropsychology to better understand how to improve health outcomes for those affected by stroke. 

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and a major cause of physical and cognitive disability in the United States. As soon as a stroke occurs, the following hours are crucial to assess how damaging the effects of stroke will be on the person’s ability to think, speak, and move. 

This study aims to investigate early predictors of the severity of these lasting symptoms of stroke, and therefore eventually improve health outcomes by developing the appropriate interventions.

Arora initiated the collaboration between the neuroscience ICU and health psychology, after Hart saw one of Arora’s neuro ICU patients for a consultation. “Dr. Arora and I started discussing interdisciplinary care and outcomes following stroke,” Hart said.  “He was very upfront in his interest in leaving his mark in the neuro ICU in thinking about the best ways to optimize outcomes for his patients.”

This study will look at stroke patients at two time points after their acute hospital setting, where data will be gathered in the areas of speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy, as well as neuropsychological functioning, heart rate variability, and neuroimaging. 

The data collection will require collaboration with therapists in each discipline, making this study somewhat unique. 

“We believe it’s important to collect longitudinal data of stroke symptomatology, first of all,” Ferguson said. “But we’re also interested in interdisciplinary collaboration. It’s becoming more the norm, but it’s still not the standard. We believe bridging these relationships is imperative to holistically understanding the patient and providing the best outcomes.”

Ferguson, who also has appointments as a professor in radiology in the School of Medicine and as a researcher at the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, will be looking specifically at heart rate variability, a measure of how the nervous system is functioning,  in these stroke patients. 

“We wish to see if heart rate variability, which is derived from a simple bedside electrocardiogram, might serve as a marker for who is getting better after a stroke and who is not. Then we can also look to see if certain therapies are associated with changes in heart rate variability, which might improve future care for stroke patients,” Ferguson said. 

The data from the traditional stroke-rehab therapies (Speech, OT, and PT), neuropsychological testing and biomarkers such as heart rate variability will be collected and then cross referenced to see what trends emerge.

“This pilot data will serve as a springboard for larger projects,” Hart said. “Hopefully unique trends will emerge that will inform the next step that will be on a larger scale with more participants.”

In addition, this project provides the opportunity for more collaboration between the School of Health Professions and  the School of Medicine.

“I’m really happy that we’re able to do that with this grant,” Hart said. “Our department has a long history of collaborating with neurology and we think this is enhancing that relationship.”