Nav: Home

Imitating movements could help Alzheimer's patients

March 31, 2016

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer's Association. There is no cure and no way to slow or prevent the illness. But, patients can still benefit from both physical and cognitive rehabilitation, and researchers are learning that mimicry may be a useful tool to help them regain lost abilities.

"Alzheimer's patients are still able to voluntarily imitate the movement of an object, as well as that of a human being" said Dr. Ambra Bisio. "If this ability is still in place, a patient could relearn how to perform actions that have become difficult due to the disease."

Dr. Ambra Bisio is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Experimental Medicine at the University of Genoa. She specializes in how the brain responds to movement, particularly somebody else's movements. In a collaboration with Professor Thierry Pozzo at INSERM-U1093, she showed that Alzheimer's patients can still mimic a simple gesture by a human or a moving dot on a computer screen, suggesting that such exercises may complement current therapeutic strategies. Their results were published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Copying what someone else is doing is a basic social building block that helps people to learn and to interact with others. "By replicating its mother's actions, a baby learns how to relate with people. It's the same principle when a tennis student learns from her trainer how to execute a tennis service," explained Bisio. "Our results suggest that imitation could be used during rehabilitation of Alzheimer's patients."

At the outset, it wasn't clear whether this hardwired brain function would still operate once the disease had begun to take its toll. Alzheimer's has a peculiar way of devastating some brain functions while leaving others untouched. Bisio's study showed that, at least for mild stages of the disease, Alzheimer's patients retained this ability to imitate. They also found that patients performed better with the human trainer than they did with the computer.

Computer-based training methods are being developed to offer a simpler alternative to a human therapist, whose presence may distract a patient from the task at hand. But the value of these methods is highly debated.

According to Bisio's results, training with a computer is possible, but the response is likely to be better with a human trainer. This may be because the emotional response that a patient experiences when interacting with a real person is still more beneficial than it is distracting.

"Because Alzheimer's damages the parts of the brain that link motor and cognitive function, behavioral treatments will still be important for patients, even after pharmaceutical treatments are discovered," added Bisio. By providing insight into patients' ongoing ability to imitate simple actions, Bisio's results help to guide better strategies for rehabilitating patients in the future.
-end-


Frontiers

Related Brain Articles:

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.
BRAIN Initiative tool may transform how scientists study brain structure and function
Researchers have developed a high-tech support system that can keep a large mammalian brain from rapidly decomposing in the hours after death, enabling study of certain molecular and cellular functions.
Wiring diagram of the brain provides a clearer picture of brain scan data
In a study published today in the journal BRAIN, neuroscientists led by Michael D.
Blue Brain Project releases first-ever digital 3D brain cell atlas
The Blue Brain Cell Atlas is like ''going from hand-drawn maps to Google Earth'' -- providing previously unavailable information on major cell types, numbers and positions in all 737 brain regions.
Landmark study reveals no benefit to costly and risky brain cooling after brain injury
A landmark study, led by Monash University researchers, has definitively found that the practice of cooling the body and brain in patients who have recently received a severe traumatic brain injury, has no impact on the patient's long-term outcome.
Brain cells called astrocytes have unexpected role in brain 'plasticity'
Researchers from the Salk Institute have shown that astrocytes -- long-overlooked supportive cells in the brain -- help to enable the brain's plasticity, a new role for astrocytes that was not previously known.
Largest brain study of 62,454 scans identifies drivers of brain aging
In the largest known brain imaging study, scientists from Amen Clinics (Costa Mesa, CA), Google, John's Hopkins University, University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Francisco evaluated 62,454 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans of more than 30,000 individuals from 9 months old to 105 years of age to investigate factors that accelerate brain aging.
Is whole-brain radiation still best for brain metastases from small-cell lung cancer?
University of Colorado Cancer Center study compares outcomes of 5,752 small-cell lung cancer patients who received whole-brain radiation therapy (WBRT) with those of 200 patients who received stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), finding that the median overall survival was actually longer with SRS (10.8 months with SRS versus 7.1 months with WBRT).
Atlas of brain blood vessels provides fresh clues to brain diseases
Even though diseases of the brain vasculature are some of the most common causes of death in the West, knowledge of these blood vessels is limited.
Brain sciences researcher pinpoints brain circuit that triggers fear relapse
Steve Maren, the Claude H. Everett Jr. '47 Chair of Liberal Arts professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University, and his Emotion and Memory Systems Laboratory (EMSL) have made a breakthrough discovery in the process of fear relapse.
More Brain News and Brain Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.