Could people’s eyes and ears help fix the damage Alzheimer’s disease does to the brain? Just by looking at flashing light and listening to flickering sound?
A new study led by a prominent M.I.T. neuroscientist offers tantalizing promise. It found that when mice engineered to exhibit Alzheimer’s-like qualities were exposed to strobe lights and clicking sounds, important brain functions improved and toxic levels of Alzheimer’s-related proteins diminished.
A brain training computer game developed by British neuroscientists has been shown to improve the memory of patients in the very earliest stages of dementia and could help such patients avert some symptoms of cognitive decline.
Cognitive impairments, particularly memory problems, are a defining feature of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and vascular dementia. Cognitive training and cognitive rehabilitation are specific interventional approaches designed to address difficulties with memory and other aspects of cognitive functioning. The present review is an update of previous versions of this review.
The main aim of the current review was to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of cognitive training and cognitive rehabilitation for people with mild Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia in relation to important cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes for the person with dementia and the primary caregiver in the short, medium and long term.
The present paper presents data from ten patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD), all of whom were trained to use an interactive computer-based program. Using photographs of the patient and his or her personal surroundings, an everyday task of relevance to the patient was simulated on a PC-touch screen, which the patient was trained to operate. After three weeks of training (three to four sessions a week), the patients needed less help in performing the programs, they became faster, and eight out of ten made fewer mistakes. The results were most pronounced in patients with a poor performance at the beginning, and there was no difference between early-onset (EO) and late-onset (LO) AD patients. Although the training was generally well received, there was no evidence of a general cognitive improvement, and it remains an open question whether the results achieved with PC training can be transferred to real-life situations.
Significant time-by-pattern-by-group interactions were found for cognitive performance in terms of the number of errors made and trials needed on the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery Paired Associates Learning task (P=.044; P=.027). Significant time-by-group interactions were also found for the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery Paired Associates Learning first trial memory score (P=.002), Mini-Mental State Examination (P=.036), the Brief Visuospatial Memory Test (P=.032), and the Apathy Evaluation Scale (P=.026). Within-group comparisons revealed highly specific effects of cognitive training on episodic memory. The cognitive training group maintained high levels of enjoyment and motivation to continue after each hour of gameplay, with self-confidence and self-rated memory ability improving over time.
Episodic memory robustly improved in the cognitive training group. “Gamified” cognitive training may also enhance visuospatial abilities in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment. Gamification maximizes engagement with cognitive training by increasing motivation and could complement pharmacological treatments for amnestic mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer’s disease. Larger, more controlled trials are needed to replicate and extend these findings.