The imitation of movement could be a key tool in the management of Parkinson’s disease, new research from psychologists at the University of Manchester, UK, suggests.

Published in the Journal of Neuropsychology, the study by Dr Ellen Poliakoff and Dr Judith Bek compared the reactions of 23 people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease and 24 people without.

Participants were given a computer-based task and it was shown that seeing another person’s movement on screen influenced the participant’s own movements, in a similar way for those with and without Parkinson’s.

It is thought that this response taps into a process that is involved when people inadvertently mimic other people during social interaction.

Masking through mimicry

During the study, participants pressed a button as quickly as possible after viewing a human finger that moved upward or downward. This means that it either matched or mismatched the participant’s own movement.

Interestingly, there was no definitive difference between the two groups, which researchers argue shows that movement is still triggered in people with Parkinson’s disease when they see someone else move.

This may help them practise and improve their own movements.

Poliakoff said: “These findings are the first unambiguous demonstration of imitative priming in both people with Parkinson’s and healthy older adults.

“And that has implications for therapeutic techniques to facilitate action. Because imitation is important socially, it may also help us understand how people with Parkinson’s interact with other people.”

What’s next?

As reported on the university’s website, the research team, in collaboration with Professor Paul Holmes from Manchester Metropolitan University, has developed an app to allow patients to train actions at home.

The app is to be trialled soon and will use videos to help those with the disease improve everyday actions such as fastening buttons and cutting up food.

Bek added: “It’s about watching and imaging movements to help with performing everyday actions.

“Our research has found that it should be possible to help people with Parkinson’s by using imitation and, hopefully, this new app will be able to tell us if it’s feasible to put these ideas into practice.”

Source: University of Manchester

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