Working memory is essential for people to function well in everyday life. This volatile form of memory holds and manipulates a finite amount of information over a short period of time, allowing people to interact with their environment effectively and efficiently. Working memory typically declines with age, with declining capacity leading to daily difficulties in people with Parkinson’s disease, dementia and stroke.
Scientists and clinicians from the University of Birmingham, UK, Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the University of Trento, Italy, have developed new technology to mitigate this decline.
Researchers refer to the technology as Cognitive Needs and Skills Training, or COGNIZING, and research published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows it can provide particular benefits to older adults who have poor memory capacity. (WMC).
Online therapeutic exercises, developed to improve working memory, attention and alertness, are presented in the type of engaging interface that will be familiar to users of online games or apps. Brain stimulation was delivered via a wireless mobile device that delivers small (2milliAmpere) transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) during training.
The study involved healthy people between the ages of 55 and 76, who were divided into two groups. Both groups played the games online for 20 minutes a day, over a period of five days. While one group also received tDCS, the other group wore the tDCS device, which resembles a swimming cap, but did not receive tDCS.
The researchers measured baseline working memory capacity (WMC) before the study and two days after it ended. They found that WMC improved significantly in all participants, regardless of their age or whether they had received tDCS.
Importantly, the combination of training games and tDCS showed particular benefit in older adults with lower initial working memory. This subset included people aged 69.5 to 76 years, the benefit was evident from the first day of training and became statistically significant at the end of training.
The article was written by biomedical engineer Dr Sara Assecondi, formerly in Birmingham but now at the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences (CIMeC) in Trento, who worked on developing the technology with the neuroscientist cognitive, Professor Kim Shapiro of Birmingham’s School of Psychology and Center for Human. Brain Health, using online therapeutic games developed by Professor Neuropsychologist Gail Eskes of the Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Dalhousie, whose clinical practice focuses on training to improve and repair cognitive function.
The researchers are now working with technology transfer offices at the University of Birmingham and Dalhousie University, who are looking for commercial partners who want to collaborate in developing the technology using this approach and bring it to market.
Professor Eskes’ clinical research, which focuses on training to improve and repair cognitive function, designed the brain exercises. She said: “Intensive exercise at the right difficulty is important for increasing brain capacity or efficiency. And the game-like aspects increase motivation and make it easier to stick with tough sessions. »
Professor Shapiro, whose research focuses on attention and memory, said: “Although cognitive decline in older people is inevitable, approaches such as COGNISANT, combined with regular physical exercise, can arrest this decline and provide people with a better quality of life. ”
Researchers have already shown in a previous study that coupling tDCS with a strategy on how to perform tasks that require working memory can help young people with low WMC improve their performance, helping them to set up strategies that they could not adopt otherwise. with.
Dr Assecondi added: “The effects observed in both studies were large, with the first study indicating that the combination of stimulation and strategy instruction can improve performance in WM in young adults, and the second study showing that the use of the strategy can be facilitated by stimulation in the elderly. attendees. »
The researchers are planning further studies to examine other means of brain stimulation that may be even more effective and are currently concluding a study evaluating the benefits of COGNIZANT in post-stroke patients which is expected to be published shortly.
Reference: Assecondi S, Hu R, Kroeker J, Eskes G, Shapiro K. Older adults with low working memory capacity benefit from transcranial direct current stimulation when combined with working memory training: a preliminary study. Front Aging Neurosci. 2022;14. do I: 10.3389/fnagi.2022.1009262
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