Each year approximately 1 million people living in the countries of the EU suffer a stroke. In Western Europe stroke is the third most common cause of death, whereas in the EU Enlargement countries it is the most frequent cause.
Mortality data however tend to underestimate the true burden of stroke to European society, as the major outcome is disability rather than death. Stroke accounts for 23% of all chronic disability in Europe. The search for effective strategies of rehabilitation has therefore become m ore pressing.
The ease with which we perform tasks in which the two hands execute quite different actions belies the fact that there is a strong tendency for movements of the limbs to be drawn together. These findings are not simply of academic interest. The systematic nature of these interactions has given rise to the expectation that for stroke survivors, functional improvements in the control of a paretic limb may be realised when movements are performed in a bimanual context.
Recent research has also suggested that the adult brain retains an extensive facility to undergo adaptive change or reorganisation. This capacity is referred to as neural plasticity. Among health care professionals and scientists alike, it is now recognised that plasticity is a critical precursor for the recovery of motor function following brain injury.
It is also increasingly apparent that in order to capitalise fully upon neural plasticity, it is necessary to utilise movement-based therapeutic interventions in order to drive recovery of function. The aim of the proposed project is to increase our understanding of interventions that enhance plasticity and alter the sensitivity of the cortex to the additional neural inputs generated by movement of the opposite limb.
This strategic basic research will have direct application to acquired movement deficits such as stroke, and will provide principled bases upon which to develop task and deficit specific programs of movement rehabilitation.
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