By Chad Osborne
Sister’s struggle with cerebral palsy inspires student’s research
There are varying degrees to which individuals are affected by cerebral palsy.
Some are bound to a wheelchair, while others appear to be completely functional.
Lauren Boush ’18’s sister, Autumn, is among the latter. However, the pain and exhaustion can be tremendous.
“What people don’t see is that when she comes home, she is in tears because the muscles in her back are so contracted to one side because her backpack was heavy or her brain got tired from trying to make those movements of walking all day long, or she can’t physically see,” Boush said of Autumn, a student at Virginia Western Community College. “I want people to know that it may not look like she struggles, but she really does, and that is something that needs to be addressed.”
It was during Autumn’s physical therapy visits that Boush, a senior exercise, sport and health education major at Radford University, began to see the benefits exercise was having on her sister. “I could see the exercises were making a huge difference for Autumn,” said Boush, who soon after began to think about conducting her own research with children who have cerebral palsy.
As a member of Radford’s Honors Academy, Boush worked with Health and Human Performance Chair and Professor J.P. Barfield on a capstone project that delved into the benefits of exercise for those individuals with cerebral palsy. Last spring and summer, she expanded her research to work with a group of children with cerebral palsy at a high school in Roanoke.
“The whole point of the research was to try to find ways people can exercise without hurting them too much, so they don’t have to deal with the pain they deal with every day,” Boush said. “My sister’s legs are so tight sometimes she can’t walk because it’s so painful. This is something really close to me, and I just wanted to use my knowledge because I’ve been learning a lot in the sports medicine field to try to help her.”
One major concern, Boush said, “is people with cerebral palsy don’t get enough exercise because it is so painful. The other part of my research says that exercise can help, and there are ways that help them be more functional and have less spasticity.”
An aspiring physical therapist assistant, Boush began by creating a series of warm-up and cool-down exercises and a group of eight activities that could be done on practical, everyday exercise equipment. The goal was to strengthen muscles and decrease spasticity.
In early June, Boush gave each participating child a pretest, which consisted of a standardized physical activity assessment and a relative pain scale for muscle spasticity. Boush also gave the children a pedometer to count their steps each day.
The whole point of the research was to try to find ways people can exercise without hurting them too much, so they don't have to deal with the pain they deal with every day."
She worked with the young participants each Monday and Wednesday, taking them through the various exercises to measure their capabilities. After the initial session, Boush established a baseline for each individual to measure their progress.
After four weeks, she conducted post-tests in the same manner as the pre-tests to determine if there was improvement in the amount of physical activity each could do, whether it be steps or reps, and if their pain scale number had decreased.
“Conclusively, each participant had increased their overall amount of physical activity, increased their step intake, increased their reps and sets with the exercises tremendously, and their overall pain level was decreased,” Boush said. “To me, the research was a success and I was very lucky to get the opportunity to carry it out.”
The opportunity to conduct this level of research as an undergraduate student is something Boush didn’t expect, she said, but “Dr. Barfield opened my eyes to so many things. He said ‘this is something you should do, and I think you should do.’”
The research is timely, said Barfield, who works as a classifier for various disability sport athletes, many of whom have cerebral palsy. “Over the past 10 years, much has been done to understand what gets people with cerebral palsy to stay active, and there hasn’t been a very successful model yet according to the literature.
“Lauren is contributing cutting-edge research in cerebral palsy in terms of rehabilitation,” he said. “It’s really exciting for her to be contributing something other people need and will use. I think this research is really a mission to help her sister and help everyone with cerebral palsy. She is doing something that is meaningful to her personally and professionally.”