Harnessing the power of visual art for blind rehabilitation

A Smith-Kettlewell scientist, Dr. Lora Likova, develops unique art training to drive brain plasticity in totally blind and visually impaired people.

A major focus of Dr. Likova’s Lab, “Brain plasticity, learning and neurorehabilitation” is on the investigation of non-invasive methods for driving brain plasticity in the visually impaired. Her recent findings show that a special kind of rapid training in memory-drawing of scientific and artistic designs can powerfully facilitate spatial memory, cognition, and precise spatiomotor control, across a wide variety of domains, including blind rehabilitation and STEM education. This unique training named Cognitive-Kinesthetic Rehabilitation Training, employs (blind) tactile-memory drawing to overcome visual deficits, and was developed by Dr. Likova a decade ago. It has proven highly effective in enhancing cognitive (or mental) mapping, which underpins a wide range of everyday abilities across the full spectrum of vision function, even in those totally blind-from-birth. Blindness means that particular reliance must be placed on such mental mapping (supported only by tactile and auditory inputs), and on the ability to use it effectively for spatiomotor control, to recover the lost spatial functionality of vision. The training takes only a short time and has long-lasting beneficial effects.

Thus, the overall goal of the NIH Clinical Trial awarded recently to Dr. Likova, “Advanced Spatiomotor Rehabilitation for Navigation in Blindness & Visual Impairment,” is to translate her successful Cognitive-Kinesthetic Rehabilitation Training to speedily and sustainably enhance blind navigation capabilities. Beyond its practical advantages, this rapid rehabilitation training also serves as powerful non-invasive tool to drive and study the underlying neuroplasticity mechanisms in the brain through a comprehensive multimodal brain imaging platform, including a number of technical innovations. The knowledge gained will in turn inform and benefit further rehabilitative developments, both in navigation proficiency and in more general cognitive function in those with reduced or lost vision. See current “Projects” at https://www.ski.org/users/lora-likova

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