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‘MyWalk’ app monitors walking ability to help improve recovery after stroke

Tuesday, June 10, 2014: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 12:01 am EDT

OTTAWA _ A new smartphone app that tracks balance and steadiness while walking aims to reduce falls among people who’ve had a stroke.

At the Advances in Stroke Recovery meeting here today, University of Toronto researchers described how the MyWalk app uses a series of beeps and vibrations to alert users to asymmetrical gait, a common side effect of stroke.

Previous studies have shown that 55.5 per cent of people with stroke, or about 28,000 Canadians, have asymmetrical gait, which means they spend more time on one leg than the other while walking. Almost 60 per cent of people with stroke experience a fall.

Asymmetrical gait causes long-term joint problems and bone density loss and increases the risk of a fall. “Right now, there’s no way for people with stroke to objectively monitor their gait patterns at home. This gives them a tool,” Chee says.

MyWalk aims to reduce these numbers by allowing people to monitor how well they’re walking. “The app helps people improve their gait on their own, without the therapist present,” says project leader Justin Chee, a PhD candidate in the Department of Rehabilitation Science at the University of Toronto.

Study participants took part in a series of minute-long walking exercises with the app on a phone strapped to their chest. When the individual’s gait asymmetry passed a certain preset threshold, the app responded with beeps and vibrations to create awareness.

MyWalk also records the individual’s progress over time and maps the extent of gait asymmetry in particular environments, such as crossing the street or taking the stairs.

Chee and his team recently introduced wireless Bluetooth sensors strapped to participants’ ankles with the goal of increasing the app’s accuracy.

MyWalk started as a group project with fellow graduate students Tuck-Voon How and Eric Wan in a graduate biomedical engineering course at the University of Toronto. Initial testing on young adults with symmetric gait has been “very promising,” Chee says. His next step is to test the app on individuals with stroke.

The researchers aim to make the app publicly available, ideally free of charge, within one year.

“Our end goal is to help the patient directly,” Chee says. “The app is something we can send home with them, something they can use to improve their long-term quality of life.”

“Technology is increasingly contributing new aids to enhance stroke recovery,” says Dr. Dale Corbett, Scientific Director and CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery. “By making rehabilitation tools accessible to people in their own homes, we help them take an active role in recovery that will ultimately lead to greater functional gains.”

“Relearning and improving movements affected by an injury to the brain can be an intense process that requires hard work,” says David Sculthorpe, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. “The MyWalk app is an innovative tool aimed at reducing the impact of mobility limitations caused by a stroke. By giving direct, immediate feedback, it could be a valuable part of one’s rehabilitation process.”

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The HSF Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery is a joint initiative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Canada’s leading stroke recovery research centres – Sunnybrook, Baycrest, Toronto Rehab, University of Ottawa, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Memorial University. The Partnership is restoring lives through research. Learn more at www.canadianstroke.ca

Contact:

Cathy Campbell

Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery

[email protected]

613-852-2303

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