People experiencing early signs of Parkinson's Disease could see their conditions improve through a process of regulating and re-training their brains to respond to certain activities and actions, claims a study.
Researchers from Cardiff University used real-time brain imaging to identify how people with Parkinson's Disease react to their own brain responses. They used 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.
"This is the first time that this 'neurofeedback' technique has been used with patients with Parkinson's disease," study author David Linden said in a statement.
According to Linden, self-regulation of brain activity in humans, based on real-time feedback, is emerging as a powerful technique. The study assesses whether patients with Parkinson's Disease are able to alter their brain activity to improve their motor functions.
"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," Linden said.
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.
Whilst self-regulation, using related techniques, has been used in other conditions like ADHD (and 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.
"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," Linden added.
The research was published in The Journal of Neuroscience and the scientists are hoping to take this method further in formal clinical trials in order to establish whether it holds promise for patients.