Two new studies led by UC researchers
will examine how mental "rehearsal" of physical activities can improve
motor skills in stroke patients.
The studies, led by Stephen Page, PhD,
director of research and assistant professor in the Department of
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, are funded by nearly $1 million
from the National Institutes of Health and will be conducted at the
"Following stroke, patients often have to
undergo difficult physical therapy programs to regain the ability to
perform everyday functions," says Dr. Page. "The problem is that stroke
patients are often unable or unwilling to practice these exercises at
Research has shown that mental practice,
or thinking about performing physical movements, activates the same
muscles in the body as actual practice of the same task. Using
neuroimaging, studies have shown that the same areas of the brain that
become active during a certain physical activity can also respond
through mental practice of that same activity.
"If we can give patients exercises that
are easily altered for home practice, they will be much more likely to
continue therapy on their own and have success," says Dr. Page.
"Because mental practice can produce such powerful reactions in the
body and the brain, we think stroke patients can benefit substantially
from this exercise."
UC will conduct a two-year study with
chronic stroke patients, those whose stroke occurred more than one year
ago, and a five-year study on subacute patients, who are three months
to a year post stroke.
These new studies build on Dr. Page's
previous work, which has shown that mental practice of motor skills
substantially improves stroke patients' function levels.
The studies will couple physical therapy
with mental practice. The goal, says Dr. Page, is to determine how much
mental practice should be combined with physical therapy for the most
In addition to looking at improved
physical function, Dr. Page will use functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) to determine how brain activity is affected, and whether
fMRI could be used to determine the relative "dosages" of mental and
"We believe there's greater potential for
the brain to adapt to injury in the subacute patients," says Dr. Page.
"This will be the first randomized, controlled study to examine this
theory in detail, and the first to apply fMRI to examine how mental
practice affects brain function in this group."
Dr. Page is also a member of UC's Institute for the Study of Health and the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Stroke Team.