Human beings enjoy a level of dexterity superior to most other species by virtue of what’s called the corticospinal tract, which is a projection that reaches from the motor cortex in the brain, down to the brain stem and spinal cord, and connects directly to the muscles.
As beneficial as this special pathway in humans can be, it comes at a cost: even a small amount of damage can have devastating results. When someone suffers from a stroke, it is this pathway that gets damaged and leads to many possible symptoms, including weakness, loss of dexterity, clumsiness, and the inability to isolate joint movements. The key to the best recovery from stroke is very early, very intense rehab, but it can be challenging to motivate people into maintaining such intense work.
Dr. John W. Krakauer works in the Brain, Learning, Animation, and Movement (BLAM) Lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he’s not only studying the differences between movement in health and movement in disease, but also exploring and testing ways of engaging post-stroke patients in the intense rehab routines necessary in order to help them regain as much movement and control over their bodies as possible.
He explains how important it is to create emotionally gratifying and motivating experiences for people early on in their recovery in order to engage them in ways that will best amplify the abilities they do have—the abilities they did not lose as a result of a stroke. The same idea applies to all types of neurological diseases and injuries, including traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, cerebellar ataxia, and multiple sclerosis.
At the BLAM lab, they are developing interactive, exciting, and engaging games specifically geared toward patients with neurodegenerative issues, encouraging them to perform miles’ worth of movement without even noticing it. They are also working on forming cohorts of people who have suffered from stroke and who could benefit from working together in multi-player games.
The idea is that this would build a sense of competition, thereby making it easier for people to sustain the level of rehabilitative intensity needed. Furthermore, by isolating problems with particular body parts to particular characters in games, each individual’s specific problem area could be addressed in the most effective way possible. Interested in learning more?
Tune in for all the details and visit www.blam-lab.org