Recently, I was again asked to take part in a 'walking study' after stroke, a study-trial by a PhD researcher at the University of Auckland. I had done a walking study some years ago, by a similar research group - participating in the unilateral step training walking symmetry study in 2016. This is an extension of the subject.

 The aim of this extended research is to do more in-depth analysis, as the original study raised some questions and in trying to address those issues this new research would potentially help the walking symmetry improvement of future patients.

 

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At this stage, the study group are only running phase 1 which is a single two hour session run at AUT Millennium Institute in Albany, one of Aucklands’ North Shore suburbs. The venue sounds intriguing – what is the AUT Millennium Institute?

Being a relative newcomer to Auckland's Health Care facilities after 25 years away overseas, I had to ask, and Google duly replied: '' … AUT Millennium is a charitable trust established to help New Zealanders live longer and healthier lives and to enjoy and excel in sport through the provision of world-class facilities, services, research and education... We are committed to addressing national, regional and local needs in sport, physical activity and community health and fitness. ..''

In addition to the clinics, gym and weight-training centres, track and field stadium and more, the AUT Millennium Institute has a range of accommodation and conference facilities. It also has a huge world-class pool complex that includes smaller training pools in the Sir Owen Glenn National Aquatic Centre. This establishment is the national training centre for Swimming NZ, Aqua Blacks, and Paralympics NZ, from which springs the intent for the country to perform above and beyond on the world athletic and sporting stages

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From the facilities map (google), it looked like a huge complex with perhaps long distances to walk.  Hmmm. The clinics and distance to the carpark would be what interested me most. Then, there are Sports Performance clinics - … somehow I don't think that is the one I want to investigate. The Human Potential sounded more like it - HPC bridges the gap between the medical community and fitness industry.

Or, …could I be wrong? One of the programs offered by Sports Performance clinic is the RUN3D, the most advanced and accurate running assessment system in NZ.

When you run on the RUN3D treadmill, nine infrared high-speed cameras assess the movement of 24 reflective markers placed on your lower body. This analysis will help to highlight how you can rid yourself of injury and improve your running efficiency.

Another program is the AlterG treadmill, which is a unique reduced-gravity treadmill that provides the opportunity to run with reduced impact loading. The Tune Up includes an assessment of key strength and flexibility variables, as well as a high speed video analysis of your running technique. And more besides – not quite knowing what I will be asked to do, I'm going to enjoy the anticipation of the participation in this University of Auckland research study program.

On the nominated day of the test, it started off with a bang: a dense and heavy fog over Auckland City, plus traffic jams, car accidents, trains delayed, and flights cancelled. Despite ominous beginnings, we set out anyway, and everything had cleared by my appointment time.

The AUT Millennium Institute is a massive group structure, only evident as you get closer to the site. Dropping off and parking was easily accomplished. I spied the Sir Owen Glenn National Aquatic Centre, a huge edifice adjacent to the main facilities building. There were shouts and hurrahs from an open doorway, coming from inside – I just had to go and check it out, being slightly early for my appointment. A school swimming meet was in full swing - very entertaining, with officials, cheering crowds, and floats bobbing in the swimming lanes with competitors furiously aiming to be first to the finish.

Back to the session; the physiotherapist in charge of the research met and escorted me and Murray to the testing lab somewhere deep inside the building. At the testing lab, I met the prime researcher who was the key person in the process. Settling down to sets of questions and testing for my spasticity and ability, it required a pre-cursor testing on a plinth with progressive lying down, sitting up, and standing. It has been 23 years since my AVM brain haemorrhage, a condition I've had since birth, that resulted in my stroke.

Dictus bands: I was required to attach this new device (for me) for drop-foot for this study. How effective was it, in lifting my right foot in a perhaps more natural walking gait? I was used to the hinged leg-brace, that has provided support for many years and helped my clonus challenge. The dictus band on the other hand, was much smaller and slightly lighter; it didn’t seem to provide as much support, to which the clinicians agreed. Though perhaps I could wear it for the testing purposes that day. As I have sensory impairment of my right side because of stroke, I can only feel the effects of something happening to my right leg, sometime after the event, even the next day [see: walking, shoes].

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Dictus bands on, I went walking... oooo, it was quite a release – the giddy feeling of r-e-a-l-l-y walking again, and my posture was straighter as I walked up and down the corridor in front of the test labs. The down side was I was skewing to one side; perhaps that's ok for the testing. I have a feeling that if I were to continue to walk for some time with the dictus bands, I could remember to walk more in a straight line.

Barely surviving my stroke, very little is automatic anymore. I have to think about walking in a straight line, or swinging my arms, lifting my foot, not to look down as I can't feel my right foot in 3-D, etc. Sometimes I don't remember due to stroke-affected memory until well after the event.

Which reminded me: I had a similar 'eureka' moment some years ago in the hydrotherapy pool, under the guidance of the hydrotherapist at the AUT campus. I wasn't offered hydrotherapy when I had the stroke, so it is quite a recent rehab intervention. In a swimsuit, nothing on my legs to help my gait except weights to counteract the buoyancy, I was asked to walk in a straight line as possible by the hydrotherapist. With the buoyancy of the warm pool and the weights, my confidence increased, I walked straighter, following the line painted on the bottom of the pool.

Back to the present, ...and, testing my walking on the treadmill with the dictus bands. I did proper treadmill walking some years back, part of another walking study.

Similarly, there was a harness for safety, attached to the boom located on the treadmill machine.

This room was a bigger space, tempo and time trials, camera ready.

Suited up with sensors galore, somebody commented I was lit up like a Christmas tree.

I kind of prefer the description: taped up with sensors like a Christmas bauble, broadcasting on the festive tree. I did the first of my walking trials...

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We'd like to thank Chris Schenck the lead researcher, Greta Minty researcher physiotherapist, and Marie-Claire Smith, PhD researcher coordinator at University of Auckland.

Best Wishes to the on-going research, thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate.