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Imitation as a potential therapeutic tool for people with Parkinson’s

09 Feb 2015

Dr Ellen Poliakoff (School of Psychological Sciences) and Dr Emma Gowen (Faculty of Life Sciences), who run the Body Eyes and Movement (BEAM) lab, have been awarded an ESRC grant for a project entitled “Exploring the characteristics of imitation in Parkinson’s disease”

The project also involves collaborators from Lancaster and Southampton, as well as input from a representative with Parkinson’s.

Cueing is known to improve aspects of movement in Parkinson’s – for example, using visual markers to increase step length, or providing auditory tones to help with timing. This project will investigate whether cues obtained from observing and imitating another person’s movement may be more effective than other forms of cueing in facilitating movement in Parkinson’s. 

Observing and imitating other people are important and common mechanisms for learning. Observing another person’s actions activates a network of areas of the brain including those that we would use to make the movement ourselves.  As imitation involves both observation and execution of an action, it represents a particularly powerful way to engage the motor system. Indeed, imitating an action has been associated with greater behavioural and neural changes in healthy adults compared to simply performing the action.

The project will examine how well people with Parkinson’s imitate movement under a range of conditions, to identify the most effective cues for imitation and explore cognitive and motor skills contributing to successful imitation. It is hoped that this research will inform the development of an imitation based therapy for Parkinson’s.

Dr Judith Bek has been appointed as Research Associate on the project.

Further information