College of Nursing and Health Sciences presents progress in mirror therapy

Meyer Grunberg/Contributing writer

The University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences is pioneering the future of occupational therapy development for stroke and brain injury patients.

The faculty and graduate students have been at the forefront through implementation and research of techniques such as mirror therapy and the Inmotion 2 Robot.

“Mirror therapy [was] originally used to help individuals who had an amputation deal with phantom pain — where they will feel that their hand is cramping up, but look down to see that there is no hand,” said Hector Huerta, a clinical assistant professor in the occupational therapy department and the leader in mirror therapy research at the University.

A few years ago, they put a mirror that would obscure the amputated hand; the individual would look at the reflection of the sound hand and would begin to move their body, pretending the reflection is in the phantom hand.

Thanks to a continuing investment in research for this type of therapy, the treatment has begun to help not just amputees, but people with stroke and partial paralysis as well.

In addition, mirror therapy is easier, cost-effective, and patient directed for improving function, according to Alexa Valdes, a graduate student at the college who works hands on with various types of occupational therapies at the University.

“Research is finding that [mirror therapy] works to regain movement of motor impairment after a stroke,” said Huerta.

On March 25, Huerta presented the findings to leading physicians and researchers from across the country at FIU’s Brain Injury Conference. The event, meant to increase awareness on their progress with mirror therapy, said the event was a success.

A shift in the practice of dealing with the rehab of stroke and brain injury patients is a recent venture being that up until now it was believed that if a person did not regain movement a year after the onset, they plateaued.

“Now there are different techniques that have a lot of support,” said Huerta. “As a therapist, I get more excited than the patient because I know what [the success] means for the research… when you help [stroke patients] recover and regain, it is so rewarding,” said Huerta.

Techniques such as the Inmotion2 Robot have provided groundbreaking results when it comes to revitalizing extremities of stroke patients even years after the onset of their stroke, Valdes said.

“With the Inmotion2 in terms of brain therapy it is all about high repetitions. For example, with stroke patients, the neurons on the affected side die. But the fascinating things about our brains is that we can create new neurons,” she said. “Through neuroplasticity, we are able to create new neurons to be able to gain back function … through high repetition and concentration.”

Valdes also explained that the robot can be better than normal therapy as it allows for more progress in less time.

“The robot moves a patient’s arm 960 times in one seated session as opposed to 10-50 in normal therapy…” she said. “The robot progresses with the patient, if the patient isn’t able to complete a specific motion, the robot completes it for them.”

Valdes sees the University as a key leader in the development and application of innovative therapies like the Inmotion2 Robot and is determined to increase awareness of it’s success.

“If we keep advocating at different facilities about the robot and educating the positive significant changes it entails, we can recruit more individuals each year. In the near future, I can see our graduate program [having] real patients come into FIU… [this] gives us more hands on experience, increases research, and gives FIU a better name,” said Valdes.

Photo retrieved from Flickr

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