In everyday life, there are lots of activities where people need to think while coordinating movement to interact with something. It could be focussing on a task and looking at a computer screen, all while moving a mouse or trackpad to control what’s happening. It could be looking out at other motorists and traffic signals while driving a car.
But when someone has a history of concussion or a family history of dementia, those movements won’t always be smooth.
“Both those groups, they’re thinking just fine and feeling just fine, they’re moving just fine, until you push the system,” says Lauren Sergio, professor of health science and kinesiology at York University. “Brain parts talk to other brain parts, and when that happens, suddenly movements get a little less fabulous.”
Sergio approaches the problem in two ways. Firstly, she observes and measures movements to pinpoint where the dysfunction happens. This is called motor psychophysics, and it looks for where movements stop being straight and smooth, deviating into motion that is more wobbly or that frequently switches direction.
Secondly, she uses MRI brain imaging to look at how various parts of the brain are communicating, but also when they fail to communicate. With these problem areas in hand, Sergio can then come up with ways to train the brain to communicate better, with the goal of improving motor control.
Using video games and activities, Sergio creates innovative ways to help people coordinate movements when they need to think at the same time. The games may even be able to exercise the brain to slow down decline in dementia patients.
Her work also finds more sensitive metrics for brain dysfunction, helping assess whether people are ready to return to sports or work after a concussion, even if current medical standards for recovery have been met.
This evidence-based approach to treating concussion and dementia opens new opportunities to improve brain health.