Action Observation as a Treatment for Stroke

A stroke occurs when blood flow is interrupted to the brain. There are two different types: ischemic when a artery gets blocked interrupting blood flow to the brain tissue and hemorrhagic when the blood vessels leak. When blood flow is reduced to brain tissue, oxygen levels lower and it starts to die.

Isechemic Stroke
Haemmoragic stroke

Due to the death of brain tissue after a stroke many people struggle with their mobility to the extent that they cannot complete everyday tasks.

To help a patient gain back mobility there are a variety of different interventions. These range from medication to make blood thinner to prevent further clotting, to psychological therapy as many stroke patients will go on to experience depression and anxiety and most commonly known physical rehabilitation to get back motor functioning.

But recently a new neuroscience based therapy has been started to be explored called action observation.

What is action observation?

Action Observation is when a individual observes a individual completing a movement often followed by attempting it. Completing a session on average takes 30 minutes.

Mirror Neurons

Mirror Neurons are neurons like any other, but are unique in they fire both in action observation and during completing the action.

The red area is the premotor cortex

Mirror Neurons were first thought to be found in the promoter cortex but have now been found in other parts of the brain (collectively known as the mirror neuron system).


These mirror neurons are activated in action observation. This can be seen when you observe the brain during AO, when areas where MN are thought to be located light up suggesting MN activity.

Perspective in AO is essential, integral in whether you get a successful result. What cognitive structures cause this is not clear.

However when a individual views a image from a 1st person perspective, there is human centrality and you observe it from the point of view of you doing the action, part of the human consciousness. Where as if you give someone a 3PP image they perceive this as someone else completing the action. The mirror neuron system is thought to only be tuned into certain perspectives.

The Future

Action Observation could be the future of stroke treatment, but research shows it is best used on the side of normal rehabilitation. Rather than on its own. So it wont provide a cure but another intervention to aid rehabilitation .

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