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Success Stories

Our work is enhanced by collaborations with others at institutions and universities in Toronto, Canada and beyond. Some examples:

A Wireless System for Tracking Health and Independence

A partnership between Toronto Rehab’s Mobility Team and the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA) has produced a novel system for tracking the health and independence of long-term care residents.

The assessment system can be used a regular intervals to identify changes in a person’s health and independence, guide interventions and target exercise programs – helping people to stay upright and out of hospital.

It was born out of a common frustration: in the lab, scientists have sensitive research tools, like force plates that can assess people’s ability to get around and do daily activities. But such lab instruments can be big, expensive and complicated to use. What if these tools could be portable, cheaper and easier to use, so that clinicians could assess patients in long-term care settings and doctors’ offices?

“We’ve been looking for a way to better blend what research tools have been successful in telling us with practical implementation in a clinical setting,” explains Dr. William McIlroy, a University of Waterloo (UW) researchers and leader of Toronto Rehab’s Mobility Team. “Now, the development of very low-cost technology has actually made this possible.”

The result is the Schlegel Functional Fitness Assessment (FFA), a wireless system that has been merged with a clinical assessment developed through the Schlegel-UW RIA partnership involving a team led by Dr. Mike Sharratt of the RIA, Dr. McIlroy and Dr. Karen Van Ooteghem. Software developer Simon Jones of Toronto Rehab’s Mobility Team assisted with the development of data-collection software.

The system is comprised of several measures that assess mobility and functional fitness (ability to do activities of daily living). A Nintendo Wii balance board (force plate), ordinarily used for gaming or exercising, is used to measure a person’s ‘sway’ while standing. Wireless sensors are attached to a person’s ankles, where they record information about step variability and other aspects of walking. Performance reports are generated immediately.

The system offers valuable insights into a person’s fall risk and ability to get around. “It looks at the most important components of mobility: ability to stand and maintain your balance; ability to sit and stand; and ability to walk independently,” says Dr. McIlroy.

Already, several long-term care facilities operated by Schlegel are routinely using the tool and it will be introduced at Schlegel’s other sites in Ontario. “We would love to roll this out as a toolkit that could be used in clinical offices, and even people’s homes,” says Dr. McIlroy.

Brain Injury Screening

Homeless people face numerous daily challenges such as finding food, shelter and safety. It turns out they often contend with another challenge too - brain injury. Over half of Toronto’s homeless population has had a traumatic brain injury. It’s a startling finding from a study done by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and Toronto Rehab.

“The study is the first to show that the roots of homelessness may sometimes lie in serious head injury that occurred in the person’s past,” says principal author Dr. Stephen Hwang, a physician and researcher at St. Michael’s.

Co-author Dr. Angela Colantonio, a Toronto Rehab senior scientist, says the study underscores the need for clinicians to routine screen for brain injury among the homeless.

Now, work is underway at a Toronto shelter to determine how best to screen for brain injury among the homeless. “It’s a significant step towards routine early identification, which can lead to rehabilitation,” says Dr. Colantonio, who is co-supervisor of the project with Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic of St. Michael’s.

If physicians and frontline workers were to screen vulnerable populations more routinely for prior head trauma, it might also help to prevent homelessness in the first place, says Dr. Colantonio.

Traumatic brain injury most commonly results from falls, car crashes and assaults. Cognitive skills, memory, language and behaviour can all be severely affected. Survivors of serious brain injury face an increased risk of premature death.

Special Insole to Improve Balance

Roughly one in three people aged 65 or older falls at least once a year. These falls result in the vast majority of hip fractures, which are a leading cause of death and disability among older people. The cost of treating falls also puts a heavy burden on the healthcare system.

BalancePro is a simple footwear insole proven to improve balance and falls. It does this by heightening sole sensation, which dulls as we age. It has a raised ridge that surrounds the perimeter of the foot, stopping just short of the large toe.

“If you’re swaying back and forth, the raised edge will apply pressure to the side of your foot, telling you subconsciously that you’re falling so that you can adjust your body movements,” says Dr. Stephen Perry, a Toronto Rehab adjunct scientist based at Wilfrid Laurier University. The BalancePro insole grew out of Dr. Perry’s PhD thesis and was developed in collaboration with Toronto Rehab senior scientists Drs. Brian Maki, William McIlroy and Geoff Fernie.

BalancePro is currently available online (, and will be available in select pharmacies and specialty home healthcare stores across Canada in early 2014.