New research shows that merely observing others perform physical tasks can activate the damaged regions of stroke patients’ brains. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers at the University of Southern California found that the activity was strongest when stroke patients viewed activities they had the most difficulty performing. The activation suggests that the brain is working to compensate for damage caused by stroke, which holds promise for stroke rehabilitation and the development of new therapeutic techniques.

The goal of therapy is to activate motor areas of the affected hemisphere. Watching others carry out tasks is like “priming the pump,” said Carolee Winstein, director of the Motor Behavior and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory at USC. “You’re getting these circuits engaged through the action-observation before they [patients] even attempt to move.”

The virtual exercise could prepare the brain for actual exercise. "If we can help drive plasticity in these brain regions, we may be able to help individuals with stroke recover more of the ability to move their arm and hand," said Kathleen Garrison, who was part of the research team at USC.One of the researchers suggested that as homework, patients could watch videos of what they will do in therapy.

The simple visual exercise of action-observation has exciting implications for the future of stroke rehabilitation. For more information, read the full article here on Medical News Today.

By Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services