Focusing on Visual Perception to Improve Motor Performance After Stroke

Mirror Therapy

Steven Jax, PhD, has spent most of his career at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI), and doesn’t have plans to leave any time soon. Dr. Jax came to MRRI from Penn State, where he did his doctorate work in basic sensorimotor processing. He began his tenure at MRRI as a post-doc in the lab of Laurel J. Buxbaum, PysD. There, he began his research on rehabilitation in stroke patients, which he’s expanded over the years as director of the Perceptual-Motor Control Laboratory. Continue Reading

Using Mirror Therapy to Trick the Brain’s Motor System

Many people who have had a stroke experience difficulties moving one arm. These problems can significantly affect their quality of life, but treating them is often difficult and many individuals fail to ever recover adequate use of the arm. Improvement for many people who have experienced a stroke is also hindered by limited medical insurance coverage for long-term therapy.

Hope may come for these patients from a technique using mirrors that tricks the brain into thinking it sees both limbs as healthy. Continue Reading

Testing a Treatment for Phantom Limb Pain

Research by Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute and Penn Medicine into a treatment for the phantom limb pain received coverage on a Philadelphia television station recently.

Almost 2 million people in the U.S. have had an amputation. The great majority of those people experience a persistent sensation of the missing limb, known as a “phantom limb,” which is associated with debilitating pain. Current therapies fall short of bringing relief to most of these individuals. Continue Reading

Mapping the Brain’s Tool Use Network


Imagine attempting to find an everyday kitchen item—for example, a spatula— in a drawer, and then using the spatula to flip a pancake. What if instead of retrieving the spatula, you picked up and used a nearby fork with a spatula-like action? Such errors, in which objects are mis-used during the course of everyday actions, are experienced by thousands of individuals with a disabling and common disorder known as limb apraxia.

For more than two decades, the Cognition and Action Lab at MRRI, headed by Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, has been making strides in understanding both the neurological deficits and regions of the brain involved in this disorder, as well as the normal cognitive mechanisms that permit successful tool-related actions. Among the lab’s many achievements is the development of a cognitive neuroanatomical model of the processes and brain regions that may govern complex tool-related behaviors. Continue Reading

MRRI’s Virtual Reality Tool Helps Assess Hemispatial Neglect

People who have suffered a stroke to the brain’s right hemisphere may struggle with problems related to vision and space perception, mood, energy and recognition of their own difficulties. This cluster of deficits is called right hemisphere stroke syndrome.

Laurel J. Buxbaum, PsyD, and her team at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute developed an improved method for testing and treating patients for hemispatial neglect after a stroke using virtual reality.

In this new video, Dr. Buxbaum explains how patients at MossRehab’s Right Hemisphere Stroke Center are benefiting from this state-of-art tool. Continue Reading

Exploring Questions Around Phantom Limb Pain

Laurel J. Buxbaum, PsyD

Laurel J. Buxbaum, PsyD

Limb amputation is a common problem affecting the brain’s representation of the body. Most individuals with amputation have a phantom limb with which they experience touch and pain. Laurel J. Buxbaum, PsyD, and colleagues in MRRI’s Cognition and Action Laboratory are performing experiments with people experiencing phantom limb sensations that will explore two major questions. Continue Reading

MRRI Testing Post-Concussion Smart Phone App

There are two major challenges in concussion management:

  1. There is no way to identify which patients will experience persistent problems, and
  2. No evidenced-based treatments are available for these patients.

Treatment development is hampered by the dearth of prognostic markers, hence the first problem contributes to the latter.

Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, director of the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Laboratory at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, is conducting a research study that uses mobile app technology to address this issue. Continue Reading

Myrna Schwartz Steps Down as MRRI Associate Director

by Alice G. Walton

Myrna Schwartz

Myrna F. Schwartz, PhD, is stepping down as associate director of the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, which she co-founded with MRRI director John Whyte, MD, PhD in 1992. But she’s not disappearing from MRRI completely: She’ll carry on her work in an emeritus role from California, where she’s moved to be closer to her family.

Schwartz is one of the most renowned language researchers in the country, and has devoted much of her career to studying and treating patients with aphasias and other language disorders. Her work has received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for over 30 consecutive years. Continue Reading

MRRI Receives $2.99 Million Award from NIH for Stroke Research

Laurel J. Buxbaum, PsyD

A research team led by Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, associate director of Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI), has received a 5 year, $2.99 million funding award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how the brain and mind organize actions for object use, and how this organization may be disrupted by stroke.

Dr. Buxbaum’s laboratory at MRRI has been studying object use for more than 20 years, and recently published the largest research study on apraxia and the particular brain lesions that cause object use disorder in stroke. Apraxia is associated with difficulties performing everyday tasks such as meal preparation and grooming, and is among the leading causes of disability in stroke, yet remains poorly understood. The research of Dr. Buxbaum and colleagues has shown that particular areas on the left side of the brain store memories of familiar object actions. Continue Reading