Recovering touch

Professor Leeanne Carey, from the College of Science, Health and Engineering, is helping stroke survivors to relearn the sense of touch

One in four people suffer a stroke in their lifetime. One in two of those who experience stroke will lose their sense of touch.

Occupational therapist and neuroscientist, Professor Leeanne Carey, specialises in the science of recovering touch. “Early in my career, I worked with a young dental nurse who had lost the use of her arm after stroke,” she says. “She couldn’t hold on to objects because she couldn’t feel the contact, and there was nothing we could do to help her.”

That was in the early 1980s. It was the catalyst that led Carey into the brave new world of brain plasticity, to understand how injury could be overcome by tapping into different neural networks undamaged by stroke. Now she is a leader in the field.

“We now know that the brain can recover after an injury like stroke,” she explains. “We took this knowledge and combined it with our understanding of how we use our senses, to create a rehabilitation program to help people relearn the sense of touch.” The therapy, called SENSe, helps stroke survivors to feel textures and objects, and to know where their arm is in space. Participants learn to use these skills in their everyday lives.

Through her national partnership, Carey and her team have established four SENSe Therapy Centres and a translation hub to make the program more widely available. They have also partnered with eight healthcare networks to upskill therapists in existing services.

“SENSe makes a difference because it has been informed by the needs of stroke survivors and clinicians,” she says. “It is helping to transform the lives of people with stroke.”

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