Health & Wellbeing

Mimicking movements could help Alzheimer's rehabilitation

Cross-section of a brain affected by Alzheimer's disease
Cross-section of a brain affected by Alzheimer's disease
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Cross-section of a brain affected by Alzheimer's disease
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Cross-section of a brain affected by Alzheimer's disease

While our understanding of Alzheimer'sdisease is constantly evolving and improving, there's still currentlyno way to prevent or cure the condition. It is, however, believed to be possible forpatients to benefit from rehabilitation efforts. One such method forhelping to regain lost abilities is through imitating movements, a newstudy has shown.

When you're growing up, you learnactions from your mother or father by copying what he or she does. In asimilar way, it's believed that Alzheimer's patients are able tovoluntarily imitate movements, and it's possible that they couldrelearn actions that the disease has made it difficult to perform.

When beginning the study, the team, led by researchers from the University of Genoa, wasn't certainthat the hardwired learning function of the brain would still beoperating normally for patients. But as the work progressed, itbecame apparent that the disease – at least in its mild stages –hadn't damaged the function, with patients able to mimic a simplegesture, copying either a person or a moving dot on a computerscreen.

The testing also revealed that while itwas possible for a patient to learn from a computer, a human teacheris preferable. According to lead researcher Dr. Ambra Bisio, theemotional response of the patient when interacting with anotherperson is more significant than the distraction that their presencecauses.

Even as we edge closer to a cure forthe debilitating condition, treatments such as this will likely stillform an important part of treatment. At the very least, the knowledgethat Alzheimer's sufferers can still learn from the people aroundthem is a promising, and for the loved ones of patients, perhapscomforting fact.

"Because Alzheimer's damages theparts of the brain that link motor and cognitive function, behavioraltreatments will still be important for patients, even afterpharmaceutical treatments are discovered," said Dr. Bisio.

The findings of the work are publishedonline in Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience.

Source: University of Genoa

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