Dr. Sydney Schaefer is an Assistant Professor within the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department at Utah State University and the Primary Investigator of the Motor Rehabilitation and Learning Lab. She received her Masters and PhD from the Department of Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University. She then completed Post-Doctoral Fellowships at Washington University in St. Louis in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Program in Physical Therapy. Sydney is with us today to tell us about her journey through life and science.
The mission of Sydney’s Motor Rehabilitation and Learning Lab at Utah State University is to conduct human research that will be applied directly to clinical physical rehabilitative practice. One area of study relates to generalization of task-specific motor learning. Task-specific training is a current approach for improving motor function within neurorehabilitation. In a typical task-specific training session, patients may practice multiple repetitions of a given task that they have difficulty doing. Most patients have difficulty doing multiple tasks, yet there is not enough time in physical or occupational therapy to practice every task. It is assumed that the benefits of practicing one task will generalize or transfer to other unpracticed tasks. We are currently examining whether, in whom, and how much training on one functional motor task will transfer.
The lab also studies changes in cognitive load and physical effort during motor learning. For many of us, planning and executing a motor task, such as feeding ourselves, requires minimal attention. This allows us to do something else simultaneously. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that after brain injury (stroke, TBI) motor tasks now require much higher levels of attention. Many individuals with post-stroke motor deficits use high levels of focused attention and physical effort when performing motor tasks, and often perceive significant cognitive loads and exertion associated with their movements. We are developing novel techniques for determining the cognitive load and physical effort associated with upper extremity and lower extremity motor tasks.