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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life SciencesAbout us

Dr Sara Demain 

Associate Professor

Dr Sara Demain's photo

Dr Sara Demain is Associate Professor within Health Sciences at the University of Southampton. Her research explores the Human Technology Interface in Rehabilitation, using “technology” in its broadest sense to include all interventions, services and processes which are used in rehabilitation. Sara's priorities are i) to understand the impact of rehabilitation technologies on those who provide and those who receive rehabilitation, and ii) to develop interventions which are effective, user-friendly and minimally disruptive.

People with long term conditions want to do more to improve their health. Rehabilitation and supported self-management can give them the skills, knowledge and tools they need.

All of my research is interdisciplinary, working with rehabilitation professionals, engineers, sociologists and psychologists to understand the human technology interface in rehabilitation, specifically working with neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, dementia and Parkinson’s Disease.

I am unusual in being a physiotherapist with a PhD grounded in social science which gives me a unique perspective on the use and evaluation of rehabilitation technologies. My research has had a direct impact on Stroke Association and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy policies regarding the provision of physiotherapy after hospital discharge and informed guidance on best practice in exercise provision after stroke.

I use a range of qualitative and quantitative methods and methodologies to explore both the physical and sociological aspects of rehabilitation technologies. I am an active member of the Rehabilitation and Health Technologies Research Group working with Professor Jane Burridge and have joint research interests with Professor Carl May and other members of the Organisation and Delivery of Care Group.


Research interests

There are two main strands to my research 1) usability, benefits and burdens of rehabilitation technologies 2) health care relationships.

1) Usability, benefits and burdens of rehabilitation technologies:

I work on projects to enhance the usability of rehabilitation technologies from the earliest design stages and work closely with Electronics and Computer Sciences engineers, using iterative design approaches to develop technologies which maximise benefits and minimise user and carer burden.

2) Rehabilitation Relationships:

I am interested in the human aspects of rehabilitation: how professionals and patients interact and experience rehabilitation interventions. This work includes research into how physiotherapists discharge people with stroke, how patient expertise can be used to teach student physiotherapists, improving caregiver experiences and competencies in dementia care, and promoting self-management in stroke rehabilitation. I have also made significant contributions to understanding recovery in stroke; publishing a paper that challenges the concept of plateau as the end of stroke recovery.

Other current projects

Design and Human Evaluation of Haptic Devices for Hand  Rehabilitation from Sensory Deficits due to Neurological, Merret G, Metcalf C, Demain S, £37K

Tactile Feedback Device Coupled with a Virtual Imaging System for Home-Based Stroke Rehabilitation Morgan Automation (SME) + Merret G, Metcalf C, Demain S,£73K

Electromyography-biofeedback  protocol for gait recovery after stroke, Rosa M, Marques A, Demain S, Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) Portuguese Government Scheme. Grant held by Universidade Aveiro, Portugal, € 44K


Research group

Active Living and Rehabilitation

Research project(s)

ICF to develop integrated interventions for staff and severe dementia institutionalised elderly

The study is developing a psycho-educational (P-E) programme to provide training and psychological support to care staff working with people with moderate and severe dementia.

Using functional electrical stimulation mediated by iterative learning control and robotics to improve arm movement for people with Multiple Sclerosis (PwMS)

  When you repeatedly practice a skill or movement, such as lifting your arm, you become better at it due to new nerve connections being made within your brain. When a person affected by MS develops upper limb weakness this is due to some of the nerves that connect their arm muscles to their brain becoming damaged so that they may have limited arm movement or none at all.   Consequently they cannot practice lifting their arm to reach and so their arm muscles get weaker.  In this research we are using a model previously used in stroke patients where nerves within the arm are electrically stimulating so that the person can practice arm movement.  They will do this by resting their arm in a robot and having their two main muscles around the shoulder electrically stimulated so that they can practice reaching movements.  The robot removes the weight of the arm and the functional electrical stimulation (FES) makes the arm muscles work.  What is particularly good is that the amount of electrical stimulation is adjusted so that just the right amount of stimulation can be delivered according to the person's need.  This stimulation level is based on the person's previous reaching movement and includes the correction of any errors made.  This process is called Iterative Learning Control (ILC) which is widely used in industry e.g. putting lids on bottles.  It has also been used to help stroke patients recover their movement with good results. In this research project engineers, therapists and psychologists will work together to apply the system and test it on people with MS.  

Development of an integrated service model incorporating innovative technology for the rehabilitation of the upper limb following stroke, (Assistive Technologies in Rehabilitation Following Stroke (ATRAS)

This programme of research seeks to significantly improve rehabilitation of the hand and arm following a stroke by investigating the use of assistive technologies to maximise recovery of function.

Understanding the workload and burdens for informal carers of people treated in Stroke Early Supported Discharge

Stroke affects over 150000 people per year in the UK.  Many people can be discharged safely and effectively from hospital and treated at home with daily therapy and nursing support. Little is known about the work these early discharges generate for family caregivers nor the impact this has on them. This mixed method study, funded by Wessex Medical Research, will explore carer work and impact using questionnaires and qualitative interviews.

Understanding and measuring the burden of supported self-care rehabilitation for people with stroke and their families - NIHR Post-Doctoral Fellowship.

 This study comprises of 4 work-packages which will: 1) synthesise qualitative research on patient perceptions of the impact of Treatment Burden. 2) elicit the perspectives of people with stroke and family members on the burden of SS-CR interventions and the impact of these on relationships and treatment adherence. 3) develop a robust concpetula model of  treatment burden in supported self-care rehabilitation. 4) develop a self report instrument to measure supported self-care rehabilitation burden in stroke.

Self Management VOICED (Valued Outcomes of Importance: ConsEnsus and Disparity)

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Clinical Management - Neuro and CVR

Dr Sara Demain
Health Sciences Student Office University of Southampton Highfield Southampton SO17 1BJ

Room Number: 67/4061

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