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The Art of Healing

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Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, a professional dancer-turned-scientist, is helping patients recognize the beauty in that movement, even when performed by a body facingMo new physical limitations.

A research assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation in Ohio State’s College of Medicine and alumna and affiliate faculty member in the Department of Dance, Worthen-Chaudhari, ’11 MFA, has studied biomechanics as well as dance. She combined those passions to develop a revolutionary new therapy that inspires physical rehabilitation via movement that creates art.

Through the Embedded Arts Project, Worthen-Chaudhari and her team work hand-in-hand with physical therapists, who assign specific exercises, such as balancing on one leg while drawing circles in the air with the other. A motion-capture sensor chronicles the work of the moving leg and relays it to a colorful trace on a computer screen in front of the patient. As the patient moves, a beautiful piece of art emerges.

“For people with neurologic issues — stroke, spinal cord injury or Parkinson’s disease, for example — movement is a potent form of medicine. But the thing they need to do to feel better has become frustrating,” Worthen-Chaudhari said. “Giving people the ability to make interactive art designs while they perform movement therapy shows them beauty and power in their movement. That’s motivating.”

Performing exercises in physical therapy can get tedious, she added. “So far, Embedded Arts data show that people are performing more movement during their physical therapy sessions — a higher dose of movement — and they stick with hard exercises longer, maybe five minutes instead of a minute and a half. So they’re building up endurance. People who have done the study say, ‘Please, can I continue doing this? Because I want to get better, and this helps me do the work.’”

Embedded arts project
Tim Hickey creates art while practicing his balance during a therapy sesssion with Embedded Arts Project creator Lise Worthen-Chaudhari.

In 2012, Tim Hickey of Columbus underwent chemotherapy that put lymphoma, liver cancer and bone cancer in remission. Down 78 pounds from his normal weight, he began to build his strength and stamina through conventional physical therapy before taking part in the Embedded Arts Project.

“For me, it was a tremendous help,” Hickey said. “I believe it definitely accelerated the process of learning to walk and regain my balance. It helps the recovery process because you’ve got instant feedback. When you get done, you know you’ve worked harder than just doing regular physical therapy.”

The medical field too often looks at art and dance as mood elevators in therapy and not enough as the therapy itself, said W. Jerry Mysiw, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and one of Worthen-Chaudhari’s collaborators.

“The lessons that therapy can learn from dance make sense,” he said. “Our intent is to incorporate dance into the therapeutic process to facilitate rehabilitation and recovery. We believe that the arts can be used to help drive neuroplasticity.”

That remodeling of the neural system allows the brain to compensate for injury or disease, Worthen-Chaudhari said, adding, “The best way that we know right now to get the neural system to remodel, to rebuild, is to have people get lots of practice in the movements they’ve lost.”

The technology behind the Embedded Arts Project has been licensed to a Columbus-based startup company. The resulting product, Agile Arts, was in beta testing this spring and could be available commercially as early as this summer.

“We know that neurorehabilitation patients need to move to get better,” she said. “But moving can be hard. This arts technology doesn’t make the work go away, but it makes it more doable, more motivating. Interactive art designs are the spoonful of sugar.”


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