Jay Alberts, PhD of the Cleveland Clinic is studying how the brain controls skilled movements and how changes in brain function affect movement performance in people living with Parkinson’s. In 2015, he was awarded grant funding for the second time by the Davis Phinney Foundation. Dr. Alberts’ research examines dual tasking (simultaneous performance of two attention-demanding tasks) and Parkinson’s. This two-year intervention study will use a virtual reality assessment to improve motor and non-motor function in individuals with Parkinson’s. If successful, the study aims to characterize Parkinson’s dual task deficits and develop effective interventions targeting these declines.
We recently asked Dr. Alberts a few questions about this current study:
Why is dual tasking important to study in people with Parkinson’s?
Dual task conditions are an unavoidable part of daily life. Situations, such as walking while looking both ways to cross the street or holding a meaningful conversation with a friend while walking across the room, arise naturally in everyday life. It is first necessary to determine how individuals with Parkinson’s physically and cognitively respond to a variety of dual task conditions. Once this has been identified, clinicians and researchers can then start to study interventions to improve the ability to perform under dual task conditions, which may ultimately enhance these individuals’ quality of life, improve participation in activities and reduce the risk of falls.
What assessments does virtual reality allow researchers to make?
In this study, we are using the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN), a virtual reality system with a fully integrated 3D motion capture system to quantify gait. The CAREN system allows us to measure biomechanical aspects of gait, such as joint angles, step length, and walking speed, while immersing subjects in secondary tasks displayed on the virtual reality system. For example, individuals in this study are asked to walk while they remember numbers that are projected on the virtual reality screen. The study team then compares walking alone (single task) to walking while performing the number recall task (dual task) to determine how the secondary task impacts walking performance.
What can people with Parkinson’s do right now to improve dual task function?
Researchers are still trying to determine the best way to improve one’s ability to perform under dual task conditions. Nevertheless, for individuals with Parkinson’s, it is well established that:
- Exercising the mind and body is important for managing the disease. Be Active.
- A physical therapist who specializes in treating individuals with Parkinson’s can help to design a program to address specific needs. Be Engaged.
- Parkinson’s community exercise programs can provide targeted exercise interventions. Be Connected.
What Can You Do Right Now?
Be active. An active lifestyle with regular exercise can have significant benefits for people living with Parkinson’s. Get started now with our free Parkinson’s Exercise Essentials video, which provides comprehensive instruction and direction for the best exercises for people with Parkinson’s.
Are you looking for more information to help you live well with Parkinson’s? Visit our Living Well pages to find essential information and tools to help you improve your quality of life.