Current Research Projects

ArmSense

Parkinson's disease (PD) leads to progressive movement problems that affect safety and independence, including slow walking and movement, short shuffling steps, tremor, rigidity, and balance loss. These problems may be exacerbated by sensory or processing impairments, decreasing a person’s awareness of their own movements. Therapy treatment use external cuing to compensate for this loss, but any movement improvements disappear soon after the cues are stopped. ArmSense is a portable arm swing feedback device to cue larger movements even outside the clinic, providing consistent feedback for larger movements at home and in the community.

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Sensory Processing and Balance Control during Walking in CP

The goal of this project is to characterize neural control strategies underlying walking in children with cerebral palsy (CP) to inform the development of new therapeutic approaches. In general, rehabilitation interventions focus on improving functional performance by decreasing motor deficits associated with muscle spasticity and weakness in children with CP. Far less attention has been paid to sensory processing deficits. However, recent studies have suggested that a significant contributor to the motor function deficit in children with CP may be impairment in the neural processing of tactile discrimination and proprioception information. The mechanisms associated with such sensory deficits, and how they impact motor control in individuals with CP, are unknown. The primary triad of sensory modalities that are crucial for healthy postural control are the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems. We have developed innovative techniques to manipulate these sensory modalities, allowing investigation of how they support stable and flexible control of upright equilibrium during standing and walking. The long-term view is that this approach will identify mechanisms toward developing more effective sensorimotor rehabilitation paradigms for children with CP. The expected outcomes of this study include: 1) a better understanding of the relationship between sensory processing and functional mobility in individuals with CP; and 2) an elucidation of the effect of galvanic vestibular stimulation on individuals with CP. These findings may support a multi-dimensional clinical approach to potentiate typically motor-centric strategies for improving mobility in children with CP.

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Sensory Processing and Balance Control During Walking in Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by its progressive movement problems, but deficits in sensory function and processing can exacerbate these problems and have a negative impact on balance and function. By using movements of an immersive visual scene and electrical stimulation to the vestibular system, we can provide sensory stimulation that challenges a person’s sense of balance. We can then track and quantify the balance response through infrared motion-capture video, pressure on a force plate, and electromyographic (EMG) activity. To understand these deficits in the larger context of function and rehabilitation, we look for relationships between balance responses and self-reported balance confidence and quality of life.

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