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Ann Smiley-Oyen, Health and Human Performance,
   (515) 294-8261
Bridget Bailey, News Service, (515) 294-6881


AMES, Iowa -- Does practice improve motor control for people with Parkinson's disease and cerebellar dysfunction? That's what a researcher at Iowa State University is trying to find out.

Motor learning research conducted by Ann Smiley-Oyen, assistant professor of kinesiology in the department of health and human performance, indicates that practicing motor skills may improve some symptoms in patients with Parkinson's disease and cerebellar dysfunction. Parkinson's disease attacks one area of the brain (the basal ganglia) that controls movement. Cerebellar dysfunction affects another area of the brain (cerebellum) that controls motor activity.

Smiley-Oyen's previous research indicates cerebellar patients can learn and retain some skills as well as their age-matched control group over a two-day period. Those with Parkinson's disease also improved their performance with practice, but did not retain the skills as well as those in the age-matched control group.

In a follow-up study, Smiley-Oyen is looking at these effects after three weeks of practice. Skill retention is measured for up to one month. She said the extended period will allow her team to shed light on whether movement therapy is helpful for persons suffering from diseases such as Parkinson's and cerebellar dysfunction, and to test long-term learning changes.

In extensive practice sessions (twice a day, four days a week for three weeks), Smiley-Oyen is testing subjects' ability to learn and retain everyday tasks, such as the ability to aim or button clothing and whole-body movement.

The skills are measured after every two hours of practice, while retention of the tasks are measured after two days and one, two and three weeks. Some participants also will be tested after two months. Measurements will be made with a three-dimensional motion tracking system. Variables such as the trajectory, smoothness, velocity and breadth of movement will be measured.

"Our goal is to determine what type of tasks can be improved with practice, retained and transferred, and whether these tasks and processes differ in the two clinical populations," she said.

Smiley-Oyen said medication has been the primary treatment for Parkinson's. While medicine is very effective, it has some negative side effects, such as headaches, nausea and confusion. She hopes that movement therapy might reduce the need for medication.

She said people with cerebellar dysfunction do not have a pharmaceutical answer for their problems, so a better understanding of how movement therapy can reduce their movement symptoms could improve their quality of life.

"My long-term goal is to use research to impact how we work with children and adults with various movement disorders," said Smiley-Oyen, who has been conducting movement disorder research for about 10 years.

The project is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.


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