Boosting memory in older adults with online games approach

October 13, 2022
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Boosting memory in older adults with online games approach

A functional working memory in adults is essential to navigate life. However, working memory can only store a finite amount of information after which it begins to deteriorate, causing an inability to remember newer events or perform tasks as previously. A new approach that couples online therapeutic games with a non-invasive brain stimulation technique has proven effective in a number of older adults – leading its creators to believe the approach would be beneficial to help repair cognitive function in both older and younger users.

Scientists from the University of Birmingham, UK, Dalhousie University in Canada, and the University of Trento, Italy, have together devised a combination approach known as cognitive needs and skills training, or COGNISANT.

The online therapeutic exercises in COGNISANT have been developed to improve working memory, attention and vigilance, particularly for older people who have low working memory capacity (WMC). The exercises are packaged in the type of engaging interface that will be familiar to online game or mobile App users.

In a joint study, some healthy volunteers, part of a cohort who played the online games for 20 minutes day, over a five-day period, received brain stimulation as well – administered via a mobile wireless device that delivers a small transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The tDCS device resembles a swimming cap and is easy to put on and remove.

The scientists noted a marked improvement in WMC in all the volunteers, regardless of age or whether they received tDCS. Interestingly, the combination of training games and tDCS showed particular benefit in older people – aged 69.5 and above – with lower initial working memory.

Dr. Sara Assecondi from Trento’s Centre for Mind/Brain Sciences (CIMeC), who worked on developing the technology, said approaches used for hospital rehabilitation are apparently difficult to replicate reliably in the home setting – “Our approach uses online tools, and delivers brain stimulation via a device that can be used anywhere, with the dose determined remotely by the physician.”

Meanwhile, the games’ designer, Professor Gail Eskes, from Dalhousie’s departments of Psychology & Neuroscience, and Psychiatry, said: “Intensive exercises at just the right difficulty are important for increasing brain capacity or efficiency. And the game-like aspects increase motivation and make it easier to stick with the challenging sessions.”

Besides its benefit to older adults, coupling tDCS with strategy on how to do tasks requiring working memory can also help young people with low WMC improve their everyday performance, by helping them put in place strategies that they would not otherwise be able to come up with.

The scientists are currently concluding a study evaluating the benefits of COGNISANT in post-stroke patients and are planning further studies to examine other means of more effective brain stimulation.

Category: Education, Features

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