The benefits of mimicking are no longer limited to babies and toddlers. A new study reveals the activity is just as helpful for patients with mild or early-stage Alzheimer's disease.

Mimicry is one of the basic foundations of learning particularly for children who follow the way their parents pronounce vowels and consonants in order to form words and begin to communicate. With Alzheimer's patients, the same exercise can help them cope better with the effects of the disease by helping them relearn certain voluntary functions.

For the study, Dr. Ambra Bisio, a postdoctoral researcher of the University of Genoa who specializes in brain responses to movement, and colleagues worked with 23 men and women between the ages of 75 and 86 years old with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. Although they had progressive impairment in cognitive skills, they still had retained their motor skills, as well as good vision and hearing to allow them to follow instructions and behavior correctly.

The participants, along with the control group who were healthy elderly people, participated in two types of observations: human and dot.

In the dot approach, the participants needed to watch a dot move at different speeds across the screen and follow the pattern as soon as the dot had stopped in its final visible position. The human approach was similar to the dot only that the participants had to copy the randomized vertical movement of the human trainer while they're facing each other.

The results now found in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience suggest that people with Alzheimer's disease, at least those with mild cases, still have the ability to follow instructions and imitate movements, although they may begin to lose their "inhibitory mechanism," based on the fact that the participants started copying even before the dot had appeared in its final position.

However, this issue may be countered if the patients get instructions or copy movements from human trainers since "observation of human movement not only induced an automatic match between the observed movement kinematics and the patient's internal motor repertoire, but also triggered emotional mechanisms associated with social interaction," explained the study.

As one of the most common incurable diseases in the world, Alzheimer's disease is managed by different therapies including computer-based models that might delay the progression. Nevertheless, the "presence of a human agent could increase the efficacy of the treatment," concluded the study.

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