CINCINNATI—A five-year, $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will enable University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers to explore how mental "rehearsal" of physical activities can improve motor skills in stroke patients.
"This is the culmination of a decade of work by our team in this area, and will help a lot of people,” says Stephen Page, PhD, associate professor in the College of Allied Health Sciences’ rehabilitation sciences department and principal investigator for the study.
The multi-center study will be held in conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic, Page says, with UC as the lead center. Page’s research lab is based at Drake Center, a 314-bed specialized medical and rehabilitative facility in Cincinnati’s Hartwell neighborhood. Drake offers a wide range of inpatient and outpatient care, including a first-of-its-kind Stroke Recovery Center.
A total of 100 people will be recruited to participate—50 at each site, or about 10 annually. The funding period runs from Sept. 1, 2009, to Aug. 31, 2014.
Page’s previous research with stroke patients has shown that mental practice, or thinking about performing physical movements, activates the same muscles and brain regions as actual practice of the same task. His most recent research, published in the May issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, showed that repeated use of mental practice causes the brain to rewire itself (called "neuroplasticity”). This phenomenon seems to be a key event that usually coincides with the recovery of movements.
The mental practice can be done at home, Page says, under the guidance of audio and visual tapes.
"Patients who engage in physical and mental rehearsal as part of their rehabilitation exhibit markedly better outcomes and seem to re-integrate back into their communities more quickly and proficiently than folks who simply go to therapy and then go home.
"And the best part is that mental practice has a 50-year track record in the cognitive psychology and exercise literature, is non-invasive and is easy for patients to use.”
Page adds, "Because of these factors, there has been tremendous interest in this line of research. Although we were the first to apply mental practice to stroke rehabilitation, this work has led clinicians around the world to apply this technique to other neurological conditions, such as spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease.”
In fact, Page’s team received an NIH grant last year to study the technique’s effectiveness to restore walking in patients with spinal cord injury.
The new study, one of many that Page and his team are conducting in stroke recovery, is open to participants who are more than one year post-stroke. Prospective participants should call (513) 558-2754 for more information.