Mirror box therapy helps stroke patients get better faster


Beaumont Health System physical and occupational therapists are using a rehabilitation tool called mirror box therapy to help stroke patients retrain their brain, regain function and improve their overall quality of life.

According to Erika Gray, PT supervisor at Beaumont, Royal Oak, "Mirror box therapy is part of the new Graded Motor Imagery (GMI) therapies resulting from research on brain activity and brain remapping. After a stroke or any kind of brain damage, the brain begins to remap itself, sometimes incorrectly. If incorrect brain mapping can be prevented, the patient has a much better chance of recovery."

Patient Robert Sopo uses mirror box therapy
during rehab with Beaumont occupational
therapist Maribeth Yingling

When a stroke patient puts his weakened hand in the mirror box, and moves his strong hand, the mirror box gives the illusion movement is occurring in the hand affected by the stroke. This is done through activation of mirror neurons in the premotor cortex of the brain. In essence, the mirror tricks the mind and the weak hand into working better.

That has been the case for Bob Sopo, 65, of West Bloomfield. He had a stroke on Oct 14. Subsequently, he spent two weeks on the rehabilitation unit at Beaumont and was used the mirror technique.

Maribeth Yingling, an occupational therapist at Beaumont, Royal Oak, says "On the day we started Bob's rehabilitation he required the therapist to move his hand and fingers through the movements. Today, he has progressed to the point where he is doing most of the movements on his own and he has moved to outpatient therapy."

Yingling credits Sopo's unwavering determination and motivation as keys to his success. She also reports that most research indicates the most effective mirror box therapy sessions occur when therapy is done several times throughout the day in 10 to 15 minute sessions.

As for Bob, he sums up the progress he has made this way, "I have no choice but to try my hardest. I want to return to my normal life as soon as possible."

It's important to note that mirror box therapy is not used in lieu of other treatments, but in addition to traditional occupational therapy treatment options.