One in three Canadians – over 12 million people – will face a psychiatric disease, a neurological disorder or a brain or spinal cord injury at some point in their lives. This is a statistic that influences us and our immediate circle. Yet, the impact cannot be reduced to a number.

Launched in 2017, Brain Canada’s Improving Health Outcomes and Quality of Life (IHO-QOL) competition aims to accelerate the impact of research on health outcomes, including quality of life, of people living with brain disorders. The competition is funded through the Canada Brain Research Fund with the financial support of Health Canada and institutional sponsors.

The program enables collaboration between multidisciplinary teams of researchers, clinicians, allied-health workers, carers, and patients. It channels the diversity of brain knowledge to advance the understanding and reduce the impact of brain disorders on the health of Canadians. The goal is to provide benefits to improve patient-oriented health outcomes, including quality of life, in the short-term.

“Canada is home to some of the best neuroscientists in the world, and we are pleased to support their work through the Brain Canada Foundation,” said Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health. “This research will help Canadians living with brain disorders to live healthy and productive lives.”

For Dr. Ian Graham of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and his Canadian team members, this means understanding the role of mobility in stroke recovery. They received a $1,203,000 IHO-QOL team grant for their Stroke Recovery in Motion project.

Advances in stroke treatment have increased survival, but left more people living with chronic disability. In response, research has shifted to treatments to enhance brain recovery. Despite evidence that aerobic exercise improves motor recovery, quality of life and post-stroke cognitive function, most stroke survivors do not have access to quality exercise programs. There is a need to develop exercise programs for those living with a stroke. Therefore, Dr. Graham and his colleagues aim to scale up the implementation of sustainable, evidence-based community exercise programs for those living with a stroke, and to measure the impact of uptake.

“Our project is all about providing community groups with the tools to be able to plan, implement, and sustain community- based exercise programs tailored to people living with a stroke,” said Dr. Graham.

“The goal is to increase the number of exercise programs available across the country to people living in the community post stroke so that they may optimize their health outcomes and quality of life.”

Benjamin Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D. (second from left) and members of his team.  Benjamin Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D. (deuxième à partir de la gauche) et les membres de son équipe.
Benjamin Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D. (second from left) and members of his team.

Could it be that exercise is the best medicine? Dr. Benjamin Goldstein of the Sunnybrook Research Institute and his colleagues are using their grant to improve aerobic fitness among adolescents with bipolar disorder. Despite its importance, there are no prior exercise intervention studies for teenagers with bipolar disorder. “We are grateful for the support of Brain Canada, which had provided us with the crucial funding needed to develop and pilot test a new behaviour change counselling intervention,” said Dr. Goldstein. “We are employing an established form of psychotherapy for a novel purpose in a complex population. We learned that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is unlikely to be well received, so we’ve opted for a ‘bespoke’ approach designed to fit the needs and preferences of each of our participants.”