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Brain re-training could help Parkinson's patients

Brain re-training could help people with Parkinson s disease Improves symptoms

Patients with early Parkinson's disease may be able to improve their symptoms by re-training their brains, research suggests.

Researchers at Cardiff University found people with Parkinson's disease were able to alter their own brain activity after watching real-time scans of how their brain was responding to various activities and actions.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, involved 10 patients, all with early stage Parkinson's.

Half of the patients were placed in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner, and were asked to squeeze a hand, while the scanner monitored brain activity linked to the movement. The other half were not scanned.

The brain activity levels were shown to each of the patients on a display screen, in real-time.

The patients were then asked to imagine making complex movements, and were able to see changes in their own brain activity on the screen. With practice, the patients learned to alter activity in specific parts of their brain associated with movement.

It was the first time the neurofeedback technique had been used with Parkinson's patients, the researchers said.

Professor David Linden, who led the study, said: "In this study we assessed whether patients with Parkinson’s disease are able to alter their brain activity to improve their motor function.

"We found that the five patients whose received neurofeedback were able to increase activity in brain networks important for movements and that this intervention resulted in an overall improvement in motor speed – in this case, finger tapping."

"The training resulted in clinically relevant improvement of motor functions – so assuming patients can learn to transfer the strategies used during neurofeedback into real-life settings, it might also become possible to sustain the clinical benefits."

He added: "We have to be clear: this won’t stop the progression of the disease or offer sufferers false hope, but it does have the potential to alter the course of motor symptoms and possibly reduce drug requirements in early disease.

"This may have the effect of delaying more severe motor complications and improve the quality of life of patients affected by Parkinson's disease."

The researchers now hope to carry out a larger clinical trial of the technique.

Claire Bale, senior research communications officer at Parkinson's UK, said: "This study showed that people with Parkinson's were able to alter their own brain activity to improve their movement symptoms using live feedback from brain scans.

"This highlights the amazing ability of the brain to change and adapt.

"While these results are exciting, it's still very early days.

"And we need much larger, in-depth studies to help us understand the potential these techniques may have to tackle some of the symptoms of Parkinson's."

This article was published on Thu 10 November 2011

Image © Cardiff University

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