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12th October 2023

Motor imagery and action observation

BBFS motor imagery   resized

An emerging area of research that is seeing real impact for people living with Parkinson’s is focused on motor imagery and action observation.

An engaging presentation at the World Parkinson’s Congress by Laura Avanzino of Italy delved into the latest investigations surrounding these techniques.  Motor imagery is the ability to imagine a movement without actually performing it, whereas action observation involves the act of watching someone else perform a movement.

Each of these techniques have been proposed as a promising neuro-rehabilitation tool for
people with Parkinson’s.

Chances are you’ve already been asked to “imagine” a particular action such as imagining you are pulling up a tight pair of jeans, to switch on your core muscles.

Imagining a movement (motor imagery) and executing a movement have been shown to activate the same regions in your brain.

Based on this, it is suggested that practicing motor imagery can improve motor performance and therefore, improvements in motor learning.

This is particularly important as people with Parkinson’s often have difficulty preparing movements due to the dysfunction in the basal ganglia.

On the other hand, action observation has demonstrated that observing someone else carrying out an action triggers the same neural pathways as though we were performing the movement ourselves.

This is due to “mirror neurons” which work by mapping the movement.

Without realising, when staff demonstrate a movement to clients, we are causing their mirror neurons to start mapping the task, allowing them to then perform the movement themselves.

Recent studies have found improvements in mobility, gait and bradykinesia (slowness of movement) following action observation techniques.

While this is a promising, upcoming tool for neuro-rehabilitation, future studies involving large, well designed randomised control trials are required to support their efficacy.

This is an exciting area of research and our teams, particularly at the Brain x Body Studio, have already started to implement this in our practices!

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