Alice Cronin-Golomb, PhD and Joseph DeGutis, PhD

Name of Institution:

Boston University

Project Title:

Attentional and Exercise Interventions to Improve Non-Motor and Motor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease


Alice Cronin-Golomb, PhD and Joseph DeGutis, PhD

Dr. Cronin-Golomb’s research is focused on neuropsychology (behavioral neuroscience) with a specialty in non- motor function in PD.   As member of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dr. Cronin-Golomb is a member of the Clinical Program and the Program in Brain, Behavior, and Cognition and the interdisciplinary Center for Neuroscience.  In the Vision and Cognition Laboratory, the team uses behavioral methods to examine perception and cognition and relate them to normal and abnormal brain activity and to measures of daily function and quality of life. In addition, they examine additional non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease such as mood disorders and have conducted studies on sleep and autonomic function. An important finding common to several of these studies is that specific non-motor impairments are associated with Parkinson’s Disease subgroups such as side of disease onset (left vs. right) or type of motor symptom at onset (tremor vs. non-tremor), as well as differences between men and women with PD. These findings show the importance of carefully documenting individual and subgroup characteristics and understanding their potential importance to the motor and non- motor symptoms of PD. Several of current studies incorporate interventions based on what has been learned in the lab, including attentional training for spatial cognition, cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety, training for biological motion perception, and visual cues for improvement of gait.

Dr. DeGutis is a member of the Psychological and Brain Sciences team at Boston University, VA Boston Healthcare System.  His broad area of research is cognitive neuroscience with a specialty in cognitive rehabilitation of attention. Dr. DeGutis is co-director at the Boston Attention and Learning Laboratory.  This team uses behavioral and functional MRI methods to characterize attention-related deficits in acquired brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, age-related cognitive decline, and most recently PD.  They have also developed computer-based cognitive training methods and are in the process of developing non-invasive brain stimulation methods (e.g., transcranial magnetic stimulation) to enhance attention in these populations. In particular, over the last seven years the group has developed a computer-based training paradigm that promotes a more focused, flexible state of attention.

Research Objectives and Relevance to Diagnosis/Treatment of PD:

Impairments in cognition is common in Parkinson’s Disease and greatly impacts every day functioning, quality of life.  Studies have demonstrated broad positive effects of exercise on cognition and motor functioning, though the effects have typically not persisted after exercise is stopped. In contrast, cognitive training studies have been shown to produce more selective improvements in cognition but typically have more lasting effects.  The objective is to better understand the effectiveness of exercise and cognitive training interventions in Parkinson’s Disease and assess pre- and post-training impact and determine the generalizability and longevity of effects. The study will also examine participant characteristics and Parkinson’s Disease disease characteristics for their ability to predict response to training.

This study will employ expertise from cognitive neuroscience and attention-based clinical interventions, neuropsychology, and clinical neurorehabilitation and physical activity interventions, allowing for examination of a broad array of motor and non-motor functions and how they respond to the two interventions described here.  Unlike most intervention studies, the main goal is not to simply ask, “which intervention is better?” but an important component is to examine participant and disease-related variables in order to identify which people with Parkinson’s Disease may respond better to exercise or to attentional training.

2016 Progress Update:

Dr. Cronin-Golomb and Dr. DeGutis have received an extension on this research through 2/28/17.  Report to follow in April 2017.