In a new paper, researchers suggest that brain exercises, or cognitive training, could help treat freezing of gait. Freezing of gait is when a person suddenly becomes temporarily unable to move, and their feet feel like they’re stuck to the floor. It may happen in later years of Parkinson’s and doesn’t respond well to currently available treatments.
The study was funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation after there appeared to be an overlap in the regions of the brain that rapidly handle and switch between different types of information and the phenomenon of FOG. The study looked at reducing FOG by training the brain to “think faster.” Through a program of targeted brain training and education researchers, are hoping to “thaw the brain to defrost the feet.”
For the study, published today in Nature Partner Journal Parkinson’s Disease, researchers measured the amount of time 65 people with Parkinson’s experienced freezing while they were on and off their medications. Then half of the study participants completed a 14-week program of computer tasks focused on attention, memory, visuospatial skills and other brain functions. The other volunteers (the placebo group) completed a series of non-specific computer tasks. At the end of the study, researchers again evaluated freezing time on and off medication. The cognitive training group had significantly less freezing of gait. These participants also were faster understanding and reacting to information (processing speed) and had less daytime sleepiness.
This study provides preliminary evidence that brain training could be a useful therapy for freezing of gait, but results need to be replicated in a larger study population. It’s another step toward delivering therapies for unmet needs of gait and balance problems in Parkinson’s. This is a priority area for the Foundation — we’re working to understand more about the causes of freezing of gait and imbalance and to develop treatments, including using new technologies and other non-pharmacological solutions.
Source: The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research