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Our Research Areas

Our researchers are working with clinicians, students, industry partners and investigators from top academic institutions worldwide to rapidly expand the horizons of rehabilitation science.

We’re producing practical solutions to real-life challenges – to help people recover more effectively, stay healthy and stay safely in their own homes. Our discoveries also assist family and professional caregivers.

Our scientists conduct research in 9 key areas:

 

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

rehab robotThe Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Team is developing advanced technologies that can deliver safe and effective patient care – in the hospital, in a clinic or at home – and support caregivers and clinicians in their work. These new technologies use advanced techniques from the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, computer vision and pervasive computing. Our goals: To improve the delivery and outcomes of rehabilitation and health-care delivery and help people with disabilities and older adults to live more independently.

Team leaders: Drs. Alex Mihailidis and Jesse Hoey

Current projects include:

  • an “intelligent” powered wheelchair that uses an anti-collision system to avoid obstacles
  • a robotic device to help stroke patients rebuild upper-body strength, being developed with Quanser Inc.
  • an emergency response and fall detection system that uses artificial intelligence
  • a smart walker equipped with wireless systems to monitor a patient’s daily activity
  • a wearable sensor system that collects behavioural markers of Alzheimer’s disease

Cardiopulmonary Fitness

The Cardiopulmonary Fitness Team identifies best practices for cardiac rehabilitation. Our researchers are working to improve access to rehabilitation services. We are developing new models to improve the effectiveness of exercise and lifestyle interventions. Findings are applied to other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, stroke and cancer. Our team also assesses the impact of participation in cardiac rehabilitation across large populations.

Team leader: Dr. David Alter

Current projects include:

  • understanding and addressing barriers to participation in cardiac rehabilitation
  • a randomized trial of Toronto Rehab’s Diabetes Exercise and Healthy Lifestyle Service to optimize exercise training approaches and maximize benefits for patients
  • studies to examine depression and memory in people living with heart disease
  • population outcomes and health service expenditure implications associated with cardiac rehabilitation and therapeutic lifestyle interventions

Cognition

Contingent WorldInside IMAGE CognitionThe Cognition Team is working to prevent brain injury and to improve recovery for people living with brain injury. Our researchers are developing therapies, identifying best practices and conducting population-based research. We are gaining insights into underlying neurological causes of poor recovery. These findings are informing new approaches that can help people with brain injury function better in the community. Our team’s initiatives address person-centered care, chronic disease prevention and management.  

Team leader: Dr. Robin Green  

Current projects include:

  • a study to determine what happens when patients with head injuries get twice as much therapy each day during their hospital stay
  • development of therapies that address neurological, personal and environmental barriers to participation
  • strategies to help people with cognitive disabilities to adjust to community living, such as an adapted cognitive behaviour therapy
  • creation of the first population-based brain injury registry
  • knowledge mobilization initiatives to promote best practices

Communication

The Communication Team undertakes research to improve assessment and treatment of communication deficits related to aging and, in particular, to neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke and Parkinson’s disease. Our research focuses on the interaction and impact of sensory, cognitive, linguistic and environmental factors on communication disorders. The team also develops new assistive technologies that aid communication.

Team leader: Dr. Elizabeth Rochon

Current projects include:

  • an “intelligent” prompting system that guides people with dementia through hand washing and will ultimately be used for other activities in the home
  • a new therapy for a form of dementia called primary progressive aphasia
  • investigations to improve communication between caregivers and people with dementia
  • voice-assessment software that will allow clinicians to easily and quickly analyze, treat, track and research voice disorders

Mobility

worldInside mobility The Mobility Team develops therapeutic techniques and assistive technologies to improve people’s mobility and reduce the risk of falling. Our researchers are devising new training programs and equipment to improve health among those with neurological injury. They are developing new technology to assess and diagnose mobility challenges outside the lab in the real world. Another area of activity involves creating improved and standardized tools for clinicians to assess patients’ mobility. Our research is also increasing basic knowledge of the factors that influence mobility and risk of falling.

Team leaders: Drs. William McIlroy and Avril Mansfield

Current projects include:

  • a new balance, mobility and falls clinic where clinicians and researchers work side by side with patients
  • an exercise program for people who have recently suffered a stroke
  • evaluation of a fitness program for people with multiple sclerosis
  • studies to understand the central nervous system’s role in balance control and gait
  • new instrumentation that can be used outside the lab to measure balance and mobility

Neural Engineering & Therapeutics

Contingent WorldInside IMAGE Neural EngineeringThe Neural Engineering & Therapeutics Team conducts research to improve participation in daily life for older individuals and those who have experienced a stroke, spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury. Our researchers are developing new therapies and clinical assessment tools, as well as assistive technologies.

Team leader: Dr. Milos R. Popovic

Current projects include:

  • a brain-computer interface system that enables people to control assistive devices without touching them
  • a new use of functional electrical stimulation (FES) to help patients with paralyzed limbs to “relearn” basic tasks such as grasping and walking
  • a whole-body vibration therapy for improving bone health in individuals with spinal cord injury
  • devices for assessing and training how to balance when sitting and for blood pressure regulation after spinal cord injury

Optimization of the Rehabilitation System

Team Optimize investigates ways of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of all aspects of rehabilitation service delivery. Our 2 main themes are: knowledge translation, and the development and evaluation of interventions that range from decision aids to models of care.

There is a particular emphasis on chronic disease prevention and management, and person-centred care.

Team Optimize is home to the Strategic Policy and Research Communications (SPARC) unit, which acts as a liaison between Toronto Rehab researchers, provincial rehabilitation stakeholders and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Team leader: Drs. Susan Jaglal and Kathy McGilton

Current projects include:

  • evaluation of a new strategy in rural and northern Ontario to detect osteoporosis and prevent fractures
  • evaluation of long-term patient outcomes with a new model of inpatient care for hip-fracture patients with cognitive impairment
  • a drama-based knowledge translation intervention to increase exercise participation by older hemodialysis patients

 

Sleep and Upper Airway

The Sleep and Upper Airway Team focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea. Our researchers have shown that sleep apnea is linked to serious conditions, such as stroke and cardiac events. Our team is investigating the causes of sleep apnea and the impact of treating the condition on patients with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases. Another area of activity is the management and treatment of swallowing disorders.

Team leader: Dr. Douglas Bradley

Current projects include:

  • development of a portable device to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea
  • a randomized trial to determine whether treating obstructive sleep apnea in patients with stroke will speed their recovery and improve functional capacity
  • a multicentre trial to test the effectiveness of an adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) device in treating sleep apnea in patients with congestive heart failure
  • development of a portable device to help detect whether someone has inhaled food or liquids or is at high risk of doing so

Technology

worldinside technology The Technology Team develops technologies to help people live more safely and independently in their own homes and to assist family and professional caregivers. The need is urgent – the first baby boomers reached 65 years of age in 2011, and they want to continue living at home. Our team is also identifying ways for older people to move around the community safely, even in winter. Another area of focus is the growing problem of hospital-acquired infections. Our researchers are now testing a novel hand-hygiene prompting system that reminds health care workers to wash their hands. Our team also prepares advanced equipment that researchers and industry partners can use to produce meaningful products for the market.

Team leader: Dr. Tilak Dutta

Current projects include:

  • a “curbless” approach for pedestrian crossings
  • winter footwear that will help prevent slips and falls
  • development of an anti-collision wheelchair system for people with mild cognitive impairments
  • testing of a hand-held device, called the SlingSerter™, for placing lifting slings under immobile people
  • development of a ride-on lifting robot, known as RoboNurse, that can lift very heavy patients
  • hand-hygiene prompting technology to remind health-care workers to wash their hands
  • an electronic tool to help hospitals capture hand washing statistics efficiently and accurately
  • improvements to management of human waste in health care institutions