Assis­tant Pro­fessor Pru­dence Plummer-D’Amato, who began at North­eastern in Sep­tember, is devel­oping a reha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram to train people suf­fering from neu­ro­log­ical dis­or­ders, espe­cially stroke vic­tims, whose ability to walk has become impaired. Her research hinges on the inter­ac­tion of a simple task most take for granted: walking and talking.

Stroke affects approx­i­mately 800,000 people a year, and approx­i­mately 75 per­cent of vic­tims expe­ri­ence impaired walking even after their reha­bil­i­ta­tion. Pre­vious research has shown that spon­ta­neous speech has a sig­nif­i­cant effect on walking in people after stroke, explains Plummer-D’Amato, and this research aims to detangle the spe­cific con­tri­bu­tions of speech res­pi­ra­tion and the cog­ni­tive demands of spon­ta­neous speech on gait interference.”

Plummer-D’Amato’s research goes some­thing like this. She first looks at the way in which older adults are able to walk and speak simul­ta­ne­ously, gauging phys­ical attrib­utes like gait, speed, and stride, as well as speech pat­terns like sen­tence com­plexity and phrase rep­e­ti­tion. Speech pat­terns are then recorded during seated conversations.

The idea is to deter­mine the degree of impair­ment in order to target a phys­ical therapy pro­gram to help the patient regain cog­ni­tive and walking capacity, she said.

Plummer-D’Amato believes with inten­sive phys­ical therapy, patients can over­come that impair­ment, and she is preparing a National Insti­tutes of Health grant to prove it. Her research project will involve phys­ical therapy stu­dents, who will help examine the ways patients allo­cate their atten­tion to talking while walking, and how this dual task affects their sta­bility and risk for fall.

Phys­ical therapy helps the path­ways in the brain to adapt or repair, depending on the severity of the injury in the brain” she says. “With a lot of prac­tice, new path­ways are devel­oped to help per­form the movement.”

She notes that the ability of a patient to prop­erly func­tion in their com­mu­nity and envi­ron­ment is key to their emo­tional and phys­ical recovery.

A native of Aus­tralia, Plummer-D’Amato first became inter­ested in her studies while doing her under­grad­uate studies at La Trobe Uni­ver­sity in Mel­bourne. She went on to do two post-​​doctorate degrees: in neu­rology at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­fornia, Los Angeles, and in phys­ical therapy at the Uni­ver­sity of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

At North­eastern, Plummer-D’Amato cur­rently teaches research methods and neu­ro­log­ical man­age­ment. She plans to train her research team of phys­ical ther­a­pists in her Robinson Hall lab­o­ra­tory, which boasts a walking track for patients to prac­tice their strides under close supervision.