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Computer game offers hope for Parkinson's patients

Queen’s University researcher Aarlenne Khan is conducting research to determine if computer and tablet games can help improve cognitive function in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s patients gradually lose their ability to respond to the world around them as the nerve cells in the brain responsible for dopamine production die off and deprive the body of a key chemical essential for motor skills. Dr. Khan is examining whether training exercises can counteract the symptoms and ultimately slow the progress of the disease.

“Training through cognitive games has been shown to improve brain function in people of all ages so it has a lot of potential to improve function in people with Parkinson’s,” says Dr. Khan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Neurosciences Studies at Queen’s. “We will use a task that mimics a well-established eye movement task, known as the anti-saccade task.”

The experiment requires participants to look away from an object that suddenly appears on a screen. Dr. Khan will observe whether the participants’ efforts to control automatic movements over time improve their attention and decision making capabilities.

Participants can complete the test at home using a computer or tablet. Dr. Khan will use a magnetic resonance imaging before and after training to determine if there are any changes in brain matter and efficiency.

Dr. Khan was recently awarded the George F. Ingram Basic Research Fellowship in Honour of Parkinson Society Central & Northern Ontario’s Peterborough Chapter. The grant will provide $100,000 over two years in an effort to improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease.