Skip to main content

Kelly P. Westlake, PhD, MSc, PT

Academic Title:

Associate Professor

Primary Appointment:

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science

Secondary Appointment(s):

Diagnostic Radiology Nuclear Medicine, Neurology

Administrative Title:

Director of the PhD Program


AHRB, 205C

Phone (Primary):

(410) 706-5919

Education and Training

I received my B.Sc. degree in Physical Therapy from McGill University and M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Rehabilitation Sciences from Queen's University in Canada. My doctoral work was focused on the role of proprioception and cognition in postural control and the ability to train sensory integration to improve balance in older adults.  Further questions about the neural control of movement were probed during my postdoctoral work in individuals with stroke. I completed one year of postdoctoral research at the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center/Stanford University and three years in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco. During my postdoctoral years, I developed expertise in functional neuroimaging as a means to understand the processes of brain plasticity to better inform rehabilitation interventions. I also participated in several intensive neuroimaging courses at the University of California, Berkeley, MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, as well as software specific courses.  I have over eighteen years of clinical and research experience as a physical therapist treating stroke and other neurological disorders. In 2011, I joined the faculty at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.


**Currently accepting PhD applications.  Please send email for further details.**

The overall focus of my lab is to develop targeted and novel methods of rehabilitation that will optimize and individualize motor learning. We have four ongoing primary research areas.  First, we are investigating the role of cognitive brain networks in relation to the arm protective response in older adults. Using fMRI, motion analysis, and executive function tests, our preliminary data provided the first evidence of a direct relationship between altered neural cognitive networks and impaired balance, suggesting an impaired ability to shift attention towards important sensory information related to balance recovery.  Results will enable the development of cognitive based fall prevention strategies and interventions, particularly as they relate to improving the effectiveness of upper limb use.  Second, we are investigating factors that contribute to motor learning consolidation.  We are currently evaluating methods by which this process may be enhanced through targeted memory reactivation during sleep in individuals with stroke. Collaborators on this project include faculty at the University of Maryland Sleep Center and the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Institute (UMROI).  Third, we are investigating the predictive value and differential response of functional brain networks to two upper extremity stroke interventions – bilateral versus unilateral training. This research is being conducted with collaborators in Computer Science at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and in Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University. Overall goals are to better characterize the stroke population, predict recovery potential, and develop targeted and novel methods of rehabilitation that will optimize and individualize motor learning.  Finally, we are developing and testing a new bimanual assessment measure (BAM) for use after stroke. There is a distinct void in the field of rehabilitation by which bimanual functions may be assessed, while accounting for hand dominance, and tracked over time. Our overall aim is to develop a low cost, easy to use comprehensive identification of bimanual functional abilities, beyond what is assessed by unimanual outcomes, leading to directed rehabilitation efforts in individuals with stroke. 

Research/Clinical Keywords

Rehabilitation, Stroke, Balance, Falls, Motor Learning, Upper Extremity, Cognition, Neuroimaging

Highlighted Publications

Woytowicz EJ, Westlake KP, Whitall J, Sainburg RL (2018) Handedness results from Complementary Hemispheric Dominance, not Global Hemispheric Dominance: Evidence from Mechanically Coupled Bilateral Movements. J Neurophys [Epub ahead of print].

Woytowicz EJ, Whitall J, Westlake KP (2016).Age-related changes in bilateral upper extremity coordination. Curr Ger Rep 5(3): 191-9.

Johnson B, Scharf S, Westlake KP (2018). Targeted memory reactivation during sleep, but not wake, enhances sensorimotor skill performance: A pilot study. J Motor Behav 50(2):202-9.

Johnson B, Westlake KP (2018). The link between Parkinson’s disease and REM sleep behavior disorder with dream enactment: Possible implications for early rehabilitation. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 99(2):411-5.

Woytowicz EJ, Sours C, Gullapalli R, Rosenberg J, Westlake KP (2018). Modulation of working memory load distinguishes individuals with and without balance impairments following mild traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury. 32(2): 191-9.

Westlake K.P., Johnson B.P., Creath R.A., Neff R.M., Rogers M.W.  Influence of non-spatial working memory demands on reach-grasp responses to loss of balance: Effects of age and fall risk. Gait and Posture 2016; 45:51-55. PMID: 26979883

Laney J., Adali T., McCombe Waller S., Westlake K.P. Quantifying Motor Recovery After Stroke using Independent Vector Analysis and Graph-Theoretical Analysis.  Neuroimage Clinical 2015; 22:8:298-304. PMID: 26106554

Laney J., Westlake K.P., Ma S., Woytowicz E., Calhoun V.D., Adali T. Capturing Subject Variability in fMRI Data: A Graph-theoretical Analysis of GICA vs IVA. Journal of Neuroscience Methods 2015; 247:32-40. PMID: 25797843

Westlake K.P., Hinkley L., Bucci M., Guggisberg A., Byl N., Findlay A., Henry R., Nagarajan S.S.. Resting state alpha band functional connectivity and recovery of upper extremity function after stroke, Experimental Neurology 2012; 237(1):160-9. PMID: 22750324

Westlake K.P., Nagarajan S.S.  Functional connectivity in relation to motor performance and recovery after stroke. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 2011; 5(8). PMID: 21441991

Additional Publication Citations

Complete List of Published Work in My Bibliography

Research Interests

The overall focus of my lab is to develop targeted and novel methods of rehabilitation that will optimize and individualize motor learning. We have three ongoing research areas. First, we are investigating the role of anxiety and cognition on the protective responses to balance perturbations in older adults. Second, we are investigating factors that contribute to motor learning consolidation. Finally, we are developing and testing a new bimanual assessment measure (BAM) for use after stroke.

Clinical Specialty Details

Balance, Falls, Stroke, Neurorehabilitation

Awards and Affiliations

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research Doctoral Fellowship, 2002-2007
  • Governor General of Canada Academic Gold Medal of Excellence Nominee, 2007
  • Physiotherapy Foundation of Canada Constance Beattie Award, 2007
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Clinical Research Initiative Fellowship, 2007-2010
  • NIA Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center Award for best scientific poster, 2015
  • Associate Editor, Frontiers for Young Minds, 2016-present

Grants and Contracts

NIA R03 AG060290                    Westlake (PI)                    09/01/18-08/31/2020

Influence of Attentional Control on Protective Arm Responses to Balance Perturbations in Older Adults


NIA P30 2P30AG028747                    Westlake (PI)                    07/01/14-06/30/17

Cognitive and neural underpinnings of protective arm responses to balance perturbations in older adults.


NIA P30 2P30AG028747                    Westlake (PI)                    07/01/12-06/30/17

Probing the neural basis and influence of cognitive changes on impaired balance and rehabilitation in older adults.


Qualtrics Research Grant                   Westlake (Co-PI)               09/01/15-08/30/17

Development and testing of a bimanual assessment measure (BAM)