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New training can rehabilitate weak limbs by enabling healthy limbs to lead by example, say Tel Aviv University researchers – ScienceDaily

A combination of traditional physical therapy and technology can improve motor skills and mobility of an impaired hand by setting an example in its partner, a more mobile hand, through virtual reality training, suggests new research from Tel Aviv University.

“Patients with hemiparesis – weakness or paralysis of one of the two paired limbs – undergo physical therapy, but this therapy is difficult, exhausting, and usually has a fairly limited effect,” said lead researcher, the professor Roy Mukamel of the TAU school. of Psychological Sciences and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, which conducted the research with his student Ori Ossmy. “Our results suggest that training with a healthy hand through a virtual reality intervention offers a promising way to repair mobility and motor skills in an impaired limb.” The research was published in Cell reports.

Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

53 healthy participants performed baseline tests to assess motor skills in their hands, then strapped on virtual reality headsets that showed simulated versions of their hands. Virtual reality technology, however, presented participants with a “mirror image” of their hands – when they moved their real right hand, their virtual left hand moved.

In the first experiment, participants performed a series of finger movements with their right hand, while the screen instead showed their “virtual” left hand. In the next, participants placed motorized gloves on their left hands, which moved their fingers to match the movements of their right hands. Again, the helmets featured virtual left hands moving instead of their right hands.

The research team found that when subjects practiced finger movements with their right hand while watching their left hand on 3D virtual reality headsets, they could use their left hand more effectively after exercise. But the most notable improvements came when the VR screen showed the left hand moving while in reality the motorized glove moved the hand.

Trick the brain

“We have indeed tricked the brain,” said Professor Mukamel.

“Technologically, these experiments were a big challenge,” continued Professor Mukamel. “We manipulated what people saw and combined it with the passive, mechanical hand movement to show that our left hand can learn even when it is not moving under voluntary control.”

The researchers are optimistic that this research could be applied to patients in physiotherapy programs who have lost strength or control in one hand. “We have to show a way to achieve high performance gains over other more traditional types of therapy,” Professor Mukamel said. “If we can train a hand without intentionally moving it and still show significant improvements in motor skills in that hand, we’ve achieved the ideal.”

Researchers are currently examining the applicability of their new virtual reality training program to stroke patients.

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Material provided by American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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