Multiple Sclerosis Patients' Cognition Improved by Brain Training

MAY 22, 2017
Jared Kaltwasser
Brain training software used in the comfort of a patient’s home can improve cognition in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study.
 
The research, out of New York University’s Langone Medical Center, showed that more than half of patients who used brain training on a near-daily basis reported improved cognition after 12 weeks.
 
By comparison, only about one-third of patients who played computer games daily reported cognitive improvement. The subjective results aligned with a battery of neuropsychological tests that confirmed the benefits of brain training.
 
The research is significant because, while about 70% of MS patients report some kind of cognitive impairment, there is currently no commonly-accepted therapy to combat the decline.
 
The study was led by Leigh Charvet, PhD, an associate professor in NYU Langone’s Department of Neurology. It is centered on a relatively new class of computer games, which use the principles of neuroscience to craft activities and exercises that will strengthen memory and brain processing.
 
The researchers used BrainIQ, a subscription brain-training product created by San Francisco-based Posit Science Corp.
 
In addition to testing the efficacy of “brain-training” software, Charvet said the group wanted to find out if such cognitive therapy could successfully be conducted in an at-home, telehealth setting – which it proved to be.
 
Charvet said that’s good news for MS patients, and potentially for other patient groups, too.
 
“The remote delivery of an at-home test and findings of cognitive benefit may also be generalizable to other neurological conditions in which cognitive function is compromised,” Charvet said.
 
To test the software, researchers enrolled 135 MS patients from Stony Brook Medicine, in New York. The patients were randomly assigned to play either brain training games or other computer games. Enrollees were asked to play for one hour per day, five days a week, for a total of 12 weeks.
 
Given the rigorous time commitment, the researchers said they were pleased with the study’s compliance rates. The computer games group averaged 57 total hours of game play over the 12 weeks, while the brain training group played for an average of 38 hours.
 
Despite the lower number of hours spent playing, the group that used brain training games had nearly three times the improvement on an objective neuropsychological battery. When asked to self-assess, 57% of patients using brain training reported improvement, versus just 31% in the computer games group.
 
The scientists also found that in the brain-training group, the amount of time spent playing was positively correlated with the level of cognitive improvement in a given patient.
 
The discovery could also have a major impact in the business world, as companies like Posit Science, Lumosity, and NeuroNation seek to capitalize on the growing brain training market.
 
Henry Mahncke, PhD, Posit Science’s CEO, said the NYU study adds to a growing canon of literature supporting the premise of brain training.
 
“With the assistance of other researchers and investors, these results will play a part in our plan to bring digital therapies to market after obtaining appropriate regulatory approvals,” Mahncke said.
 
The study, titled “Cognitive function in multiple sclerosis improves with telerehabilitation,” was published last week in PLOS One. It is available in full online.
 
A press release regarding the study was made available.
 
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