Helping Stroke Survivors

Helping Stroke Survivors

After a stroke, damage to the brain can cause a loss of hand function – tasks that were taken for granted such as dressing, eating, grooming, and personal hygiene can become extremely difficult or impossible.

Many stroke survivors experience frustration at being unable to perform these daily activities and have difficulty coping with their loss of independence. That’s why a group of researchers has decided to investigate a community-based rehabilitation program to help improve the quality of life of Thunder Bay stroke survivors.

Approximately 10 to 20 local residents including researchers, students, and volunteers, as well as several institutions, are involved in this collaborative project. Team members include Vineet Johnson (Lakehead University School of Kinesiology lecturer and researcher), Lakehead alumna Kirsti Reinikka (physiotherapist and St. Joseph’s Care Group Community Based Exercise Programs coordinator), Jane Lawrence Dewar (Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute scientist), and Daniel Vasiliu (independent engineering consultant).

Other partners are the Northwestern Ontario Regional Stroke Network, the Centre for Education and Research in Aging and Health, March of Dimes Canada, and the Canada Games Complex. In addition, the Thunder Bay Community Foundation has lent its support by granting the initial funding.

Resources for people living with the chronic effects of stroke are limited. In Thunder Bay, stroke survivors can attend an exercise class offered by St. Joseph’s Care Group at the Canada Games Complex – a community solution to address the need for ongoing rehabilitative care. Unfortunately, there are no options for chronic stroke survivors to specifically work on hand function. The research project aims to address this gap by providing a hand training class for local stroke survivors at the Canada Games Complex.

The participants will perform rehabilitative exercises using a novel piece of equipment designed by the research team to target hand movements.

Through the training class, the researchers will be able to better understand the neuroplastic changes in the brain, changes in muscle contraction patterns, and changes in stroke survivors’ functional abilities. The researchers will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, electromyographic (EMG) recordings, objective and subjective functional assessments, and quality of life assessments to study the impact of hand training.

If successful, the study could lead to the establishment of a hand training class for local residents living with the effects of chronic stroke. The long-term goal is to develop specialized hand rehabilitative equipment that will be sold globally to improve hand function in all stroke survivors.         

If you would like to get involved in the project or have any further questions, contact Vineet Johnson of Lakehead University at (807) 343-8752 or send an email to:


Brandon Bretschneider is a first-year Kinesiology student at Lakehead University from Acton, Ontario. He has a strong interest in research and plans to become a dentist. Brandon collaborated with Lakehead researcher Vineet Johnson in the preparation of this story.