AUT Game of Balance, Not a fantasy epic
Recently, I was asked if I’d be interested in a new research that Auckland University of Technology (AUT) was conducting together with a design team from Victoria University in Wellington. It was a collaboration between AUT and Victoria University that has been funded by Medtech Core. They were due to test a new rehab device to improve balance. Yes please, count me in.
We got to the Rehab innovation centre at AUT on the North Shore Akoranga campus. They brought a wheelchair as a courtesy (which I didn't require), while the Coordinator physiotherapist introduced herself and I was ushered inside the testing room. I was introduced to the rest of the design team from Victoria University in Wellington, flown up to AUT especially for this exercise.
AUT together with Victoria University had a new prototype pertaining to balance that they wanted to test out on participants – great, I would definitely participate. Anything that I could do to assist future stroke survivors to improve their chances to return to a normal life, is all for the better.
The noble intent to assist in research is tempered by the odd chance I might not actually be capable to use a working prototype, given the sensitive nature of research means you have no idea what it is in advance. A camera was setup with other props, plus recording devices, and there it is: my reckoning is greatly improved now – it took about a second: yes, I can do this.
Game and balance; a very interesting notion; action, motion, movement, concentration, still in early stages, I was actually hooked. This is fun to do.
Sitting and standing as required by the testers – while I first had the stroke, I couldn't even stand, let alone try to do any activities. Survival was key after a massive (congenital) AVM haemorrhagic stroke that had devastating effects. Unbeknownst to me, I've had this rare condition since birth.
I lay prone in the hospital bed in 1995; everything had to be done for me, as I was paralysed down one side. Even though my left side unaffected, I couldn't move without help. My body was very limp, lethargic, almightily heavy; too heavy to move on my own without help of the nurses. Much, much later, I would learn to recruit my muscles, the ones that hadn't atrophied; motor control, muscle strength, to enable stroke rehabilitation. Learning to stand again involved lots of tears and struggle; even a 2 minute effort was an utmost, excruciatingly painful experience, using a ''standing frame'' in the hospital.
Before my brain haemorrhage – I was a happy, fit person. Never sitting still, ballroom dancing, skiing with my husband, travelling; even went riding on camels in Aswan, on a donkey in the Valley of the Kings, horses around the pyramids, all in enthralling, wondrous Egypt. After it, I couldn't: talk, walk, read, write, remember, paralysed on my right side and in a wheelchair.
I've had to relearn life from scratch. Just the act of my brushing teeth, combing my hair, hooking a bra, took an age, sufficient to bring a tired smile after finished doing it, because it was done with only my left hand. My left arm (non-dominant hand) was aching, as it had to do the work of the right hand as well as the left by keeping the body upright every day. I've had to work at it, one day at a time...
It gets easier, perhaps almost imperceptibly, gradually, for the last 22 years, from in a wheelchair to walking - stuttering unable to yes or no or count, to having a lucid conversation without prompting every two seconds as I would have lost the train of thought...again.
I was an analyst programmer with a progressive software company when I had my AVM stroke. Even though I had almost completely lost my short term memory due the stroke, over the years, my memory is getting better, more so lately. Neuroplasticity of the brain ...is alive and well.
I know what a task it is for someone to program a game, to challenge the brain of a stroke-survivor to do more complex activities; as I believe, every stroke survivor is a different case. The bits that stroke survivor A finds a challenge to do, is a breeze for stroke survivor B, but B can't quite do what A does. It's a battle, if you like, with yourself; only you can choose to battle on, train and improve, in stroke rehabilitation.
I remember balance as the key to dance moves, especially ballroom dancing (my favourite pastime, way back when), and timing. Make it look effortless, streamlined, where all the while behind the scenes it was practice, practice and more practice; skills taught by Arthur Murray Dance Studios... Even skiing or snow-boarding, horse-riding, or catwalk modelling on impossibly high stilettos; all require perfect balance.
It was on a trip recently that brought it to mind even more sharply. It would be a good opportunity to video how I walked, with time-constraints. Like visit a winery (bodega), when you had to keep up with the tour, and walked, sometimes on cobblestones, gravel, or uneven pathways. As well as me taking over the camera duty to video the tour group at the same time? Even to climb up the old-fashioned, tourist-train (very narrow steps and steep climb to the bench seats on board) that took us around the huge winery. Or just in general when travelling, expect the unexpected, and do the activities that could be a challenge.
How far I've come in stroke rehab in terms of walking? : South of Spain & Beyond 2017 videos. I remember in London in the wheelchair, trying to take my first few steps to walk and further down the track as an out-patient at the hospital – I was pleased as punch for having made the walk from A to B (in the gym) without a hitch, although it was very slow progress.
The physiotherapist attending my walk was hesitant in her praise, and I've remembered her assessment. She said: it's all very good to walk in a straight line (from A to B), but you have to be prepared to change direction, go around an object or back up from the direction you were going.
In real life, change is inevitable. Dodge the snowball, duck under the low lintel, avoid bicycles, or trams; turn back and find another way as that path is blocked. Travel, more so when you are less able, is a challenge as you don't know beforehand what life will throw at you.
Hydrotherapy is an excellent rehab modality for stroke patients. Warm water lessens gravity and cushions the body, and weights counter balance buoyancy so the patient has better control in the water. It’s the perfect environment that gives you freedom to exercise without risking damage to yourself. Some hydrotherapy pools have a range of tools such as a cycle, or mini-trampoline affixed at one end of the pool. Quite satisfying to jump on a trampoline again after 22 years, even though it was slow-motion in water. It promotes muscle strength; my muscles had atrophied, due to non-use after my stroke. I've also found using weights on dry land very useful.
Hydrotherapy wasn't offered to me when I had the stroke in 1995, but by chance I did hydrotherapy for a time here in NZ twenty years later and found it refreshingly helpful.
Back to the subject in question? Game of balance at AUT, in conjunction with Victoria University? I was able to test-out the prototype game, and had a lot of questions & input about the balance issues that I encountered. And footwear that came with it. It was fun and in the long run should be useful for stroke-rehab patients; just right up my alley.
We would like to thank the Design Team at Victoria University (Wellington) and to Auckland University of Technology and their physiotherapist coordinator Amy Buell for including me to participate in their research. Good luck to the Design Team at Victoria U, in their future research.
And in the meantime, I'll continue to challenge myself: