Educating our trainees in research

PhD candidate takes a novel approach to rehabilitation for older adult amputees


UBC PhD candidate, Bita Imam

When Nintendo’s Wii Fit made its way onto store shelves nearly a decade ago, many scientists and clinicians recognized the potential for the video game to serve as a rehabilitation tool, helping clients to build strength and improve their balance.

But now, one UBC Rehabilitation Sciences PhD candidate, Bita Imam, is taking this observation one step further and formally examining how popular gaming technologies, like Wii Fit, can be used as a rehabilitation tool for adults with lower-limb amputation.

“The number of older adults living with lower limb amputation who require rehabilitation for improving their walking capacity and mobility is growing, but existing rehabilitation practices frequently fail to meet this demand,” says Imam. “Commercial video games present a potentially cost-effective and practical rehabilitation intervention at a time when health care costs are on the rise.”

With support from her supervisor, Dr. Bill Miller — a professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and Associate Dean, Health Professions — Imam has designed an in-home, tele-health Wii Fit intervention, aimed at improving walking capacity in older adults with lower-limb amputation. The four-week training program offers participants a one-week intervention at a local rehabilitation centre with a trainer, followed by three weeks of in-home participation, using remote supervision through iPad technology.

Commercial video games present a potentially cost-effective and practical rehabilitation intervention at a time when health care costs are on the rise.

Bita Imam

While the research is still in the early stages, Imam is hopeful that the Wii.n.Walk program will present a promising, in-home, tele-health intervention for clients who have been discharged from rehabilitation, or who live in remote areas, where access to existing, clinic-based rehabilitation services is limited.

Her work has already generated interest from funding agencies across Canada. In 2014, she garnered four prestigious doctoral research awards, including the Vanier scholarship, the CIHR Doctoral Research Award (ranked second), the inaugural Anne Martin Mathews CIHR-IA Doctoral Recognition Prize in Research on Aging, as well as the UBC Killam Doctoral Scholarship.

Dr. Miller believes Imam’s work holds much promise.

“Bita’s work using off- the-shelf technology in a novel way is just one example of creative health service provision,” he says. “The Wii.n.Walk program is a platform that could be applied to many different areas of rehabilitation.”

Imam recently presented findings from an earlier feasibility trial on the Wii.n.Walk program at the 2015 International Society of Prosthetics and Orthotics in Lyon, France. She has also conducted a number of other smaller-scale studies examining the incidence of lower-limb amputation in Canada – data that, until now, has never been formally reported on.

Imam says the inspiration for pursuing her research comes from her passion for improving the lives of those with lower-limb amputation.

“These adults are my source of inspiration,” says Imam. “I feel very privileged to be a part of their journey and see them improve and do activities that they once thought would never be possible again.”

This story is an excerpt from the chapter titled “Educating our Trainees in Research” in the 2014/15 Research Annual Report.

Educating our Trainees in Research

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