Enhancing the Power to Heal: Innovations in Motor Learning and Rehabilitation After Brain Damage
From infancy to old age, the brain is able to learn and adapt to new situations. The trick is to find the key factors that will trigger change in the right direction.
For children or adults who have suffered brain damage, the challenge is to uncover the best way for them to recover their motor skills as much as possible. As Canada Research Chair in Arm and Hand Rehabilitation, Dr. Mindy Levin studies how the motor system is altered following brain damage and what are the best techniques to help the brain recover arm and hand function
Children afflicted with brain damage at birth have symptoms that are associated with cerebral palsy; when brain damage occurs in adults, it is called stroke. The main symptom is weakness or paralysis in the half of the body opposite to the side of the brain lesion.
Brain damage can result in severe disability and mobility problems. People may lose the ability to move their limbs, leaving them dependent on others, and they may require extensive periods of rehabilitation to improve their ability to perform even the simplest tasks in daily life.
Dr. Levin is trying to understand more fully what is going on between the body's physical movement and the ability of its nervous system to integrate sensory information from real and virtual environments. She evaluates the organization involved in reaching and grasping movements toward moving or hidden targets. More generally, she studies human reflexes, how the brain controls movement, how balance is controlled, and how muscles and joints are coordinated during movement.
In Dr. Levin's laboratory, fellow researchers are developing and studying treatment approaches for arm and hand rehabilitation caused by neurological problems that affect movement control. These approaches include intensive training programs such as those that force the motor system to move in specific patterns, as well as new techniques such as playing games in virtual reality environments.