Mimicry is an important feature of human expression. Toddlers imitate expressions of their parents during their learning phase. While communicating, people mimic the expressions of their audience, making them feel at ease and reducing the air of awkwardness and strangeness between the speaker and the listeners.
A recent study, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in March 2016, showed that mimicry can be used to treat symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Similar to how children grasp the basics of a language by repeating their parent’s gestures, mimicry can treat Alzheimer’s patients by helping them imbibe certain voluntary functions to help cope with the impact of the disease.
In the study, titled “Voluntary Imitation in Alzheimer’s Disease Patients,” the researchers looked at 23 men and women, aged between 75 and 86 years, who suffered from mild to moderate AD. Prior to the study, the scientists observed that in spite of constant cognitive impairments, the patients still had their motor skills intact, along with good vision and hearing abilities, which allowed them to understand instructions and act accordingly.
In the research, the healthy, aged respondents were required to mimic a basic gesture made by a human or a dot on a computer. In the computer-based exercise, the respondents were required to watch a dot in motion at varying speeds across the screen and then follow the pattern when the movement of the dot stopped and had reached its final position. In the next phase, the participants were asked to imitate the random vertical movement of the human trainer while they faced each other.
It was observed that the respondents afflicted with mild forms of AD were capable of following instructions and emulating their trainer’s movements, though they were partly not able to retain their “inhibitory mechanism” as they started copying prior to the dot having reached its final position.
“However, this issue may be countered if the patients get instructions or copy movements from human trainers since observation of human movement not only induced an automatic match between the observed movement kinematics and the patient’s internal motor repertoire, but also triggered emotional mechanisms associated with social interaction,” the researchers noted.
They said that at least in case of mild Alzheimer’s, the patients managed to mimic a simple gesture and this pointed to the fact that such exercises can be included in the treatment process of the disease.
AD is a neurodegenerative disease that is primarily caused by the death of brain cells. People sometimes attribute increasing age to be a precursor to the development of AD. Previous studies have shown that elderly are more prone to develop this devastating mental disease, which leaves them vulnerable to problems like memory loss, cognitive deterioration, including difficulties in problem solving or remembering native language.
As per the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly 5.4 million Americans of all ages are reeling from this disease. This incurable disorder is the sixth leading cause of death in the country. Doctors usually prescribe a combination of therapies, including computer-based models, to delay the development or advancement of this disease.
In the latest study, the researchers found that human trainers can play a major role in preventing the progression of this disease and increasing the efficacy of the treatment procedure.
If you or your loved one is struggling with any kind of mental health problem, including AD, the Colorado Mental Health Helpline can assist you in finding the best treatments available in your area. Chat online or call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-899-5063 for more information.