NSERC-Essilor Research Chair,
School of Optometry, Université de Montréal
Pilot project grant: $45,000
Perceptual-Cognitive Training in Parkinson’s disease Impact on Cognitive Function, Mobility, Quality of Life, and Neural Mechanisms.
For people whose perceptual and cognitive abilities are affected by Parkinson’s disease, crossing busy streets, driving or navigating crowded shopping malls are difficult, stressful tasks. But new technology based on the brain’s ability to form new connections may help.
Neuroscientist Jocelyn Faubert is working with people with Parkinson’s disease to test the benefits of a software tool he has already developed to help high-performance athletes, seniors and people with Attention Deficit Disorder absorb and process the information their brain receives from multiple sources in a changing environment.
“Issues of balance and scene-processing are all issues that are critical in Parkinson’s disease,” says Faubert, a professor and holder of the NSERC-Essilor Research Chair at the Université de Montréal.
Faubert has developed a program, called NeuroTracker, which he says improves people’s ability to process the information they get from a scene, and increases their ability to concentrate and to anticipate other people’s movements. Using virtual reality technology attached to a special helmet, or watching a wide, 3-D screen, people see a variety of objects, such as balls coming at them or bouncing around in random fashion. They then perform a series of tasks designed to help them identify the objects or elements that were in the scene. The program speeds up or slows down based on the user’s ability to process the information.
“When you do this in repeated fashion, you get better and better at it,” says Faubert.
By using functional medical imaging equipment to scan the brains of people with Parkinson’s before and after they have used the NeuroTracker, Faubert will be able to tell which areas of the brain are affected by Parkinson’s and which form new connections after using NeuroTracker.
He will also see if using NeuroTracker for just a few minutes, several times a week, improves their balance and executive functioning – their ability to make decisions and to exercise good judgment and anticipate the consequences of their actions.
“Hopefully we can improve the quality of life for these individuals by improving these factors which are affected,” Faubert says. “Even reducing the amount of medication they have to take related to cognitive functions would be a huge benefit.”