CARDIFF (UK) — People experiencing the early signs of Parkinson’s disease could see their symptoms improved through a process of regulating and re-training how their brains respond to certain activities and actions.
Experts from Cardiff University report in a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience using real-time brain imaging to identify how people with Parkinson’s disease react to their own brain responses.
Scientists used a technique known as neurofeedback to monitor brain activity in an MRI scanner. The activity levels are then fed back to the patient in the form of a display on a screen.
Using this feedback, the study found that patients were able to learn to alter activity in specific parts of their brain.
“This is the first time that this neurofeedback technique has been used with patients with Parkinson’s disease,” according to David Linden, a professor from Cardiff University, who led the study, which was a collaboration between scientists and clinicians in Wales, London, and the Netherlands.
“Self-regulation of brain activity in humans based on real-time feedback is emerging as a powerful technique. 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 who 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 study involved 10 patients, all with early stage Parkinson’s. The patients were divided into two groups: half the group received brain feedback and the other did not.
While self-regulation using related techniques has been used in other conditions like ADHD, apart from a study on chronic pain the clinical potential of the technique for neurological disorders has not been explored.
Parkinson’s disease was considered a suitable target for the technique—and an opportunity to show that its use could help patients with neurogenerative disorders.
“Whilst this was a very small study the key aim was to establish whether this technique may be feasible for sufferers,” Linden adds.
“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.”
The scientists now hope to take this method further in formal clinical trials in order to establish whether it holds promise for patients.
“We have to be clear: This research won’t stop the progression of the disease nor should it 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,” says Linden.
“This may have the effect of delaying more severe motor complications and improve the quality of life of patients affected by Parkinson’s disease.”
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