Can games combined with brain stimulation boost working memory?

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Playing special brain-training games and receiving targeted brain stimulation could help boost working memory. Image credit: Ana Luz Crespi/Stocksy.
  • A person’s working memory is critically important to day-to-day functioning.
  • Older adults and those with Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or who have suffered a stroke may experience impaired working memory.
  • A new study reveals that the combination of cognitive exercises and electrical brain stimulation can significantly boost working memory.

A person’s working memory may decline with age or if they have dementia, Parkinson’s disease or stroke. When this happens, the loss can affect their daily quality of life, turning even simple tasks into often demoralizing challenges.

Professor Gail Eskes explained working memory to Medical News Today, and why it is so important.

“Working memory is the brain’s mental notebook,” she noted, “and it can be used to remember and work with a variety of different types of information.”

“For example,” she offered, “you use working memory when you remember someone’s phone number after you’ve looked them up, or keep mind a picture of a city map in order to plan a way to get to your destination.

“Your working memory capacity is important for all sorts of activities,” Professor Eskes said, “like reading a newspaper, doing math in a restaurant to find a tip, making decisions and solving problems.”

Professor Eskes is a member of the Department of Psychiatry, Department of Psychology and Neurosciences and Division of Neurology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is co-author of a new study outlining a possible way to help people regain their working memory.

Researchers from Dalhousie, the University of Trento in Italy and the University of Birmingham in the UK contributed to the study, which found that cognitive training combined with transcranial direct current stimulation significantly enhances working memory.

Dr Jacqueline Beckera clinical neuropsychologist and health services researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who was not involved in the study, said DTM that “with working memory training, the brain can rewire and reorganize itself as a result of repeated training and practice”.

“This is based on neuroplasticitywhich refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of an experience,” Dr. Becker explained.

Likewise, she said:[t]transcranial direct current stimulation can also affect brain plasticity, by activating and increasing activity within specific brain networks.

In the study, direct stimulation is ensured by a slight electric current of 2 milliAmpere applied to the scalp.

The study appears in Frontiers of the neurosciences of aging.

The study authors refer to their system as COGNISANT, which stands for “cognitive needs and skills training.”

The lead author of the study is assistant professor Dr Sara Assecondi from the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences of the University of Trento. She explained how the two aspects of COGNIZANT work together: “In our study, working memory training and brain stimulation target the same brain area – the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – an area associated with information processing. spatial.”

“The repetition of the same cognitive task, at a level of difficulty just sufficient to be stimulating but still engaging, promotes brain plasticity […] Brain stimulation further boosts plasticity, giving cognitive training an extra “boost” that’s especially effective in people who need it most.

– Dr. Sara Assecondi

The memory training proposed in the study takes place online. Professor Eskes, who developed it, explained how it works.

“With our software, one can train using a range of information, such as hearing and working with numbers or words, or seeing and working with objects in space, or images of landscapes, etc.” , she said. DTM.

“This training software was designed to help any adult who wants to improve their working memory capacity or efficiency. It can be done anywhere using a computer with internet access,” she noted.

Study participants ranged in age from 55 to 76, a range that includes potential beneficiaries who may possess a range of online skills.

“We tested it with adults and patients of all adult ages, and generally the training can be done independently, although different people have different levels of comfort with using the computer,” said the Professor Eskes.

“For this study,” Professor Eskes explained, “we used a therapeutic game which we named ‘N-Igma’, and it uses the ‘n-back’ technique in which players have to follow a flow of information and indicate when they see a match with an item they saw ‘n’ rounds ago”, where “n” represents an unspecified numeric value.

“The number of elements they have to follow adapts to their performance, so they are working at a difficult level, but not impossible. To keep it fun and interesting, we also give them lots of feedback, and they can track their score as they go,” the researcher added.

“These therapeutic games are intensive and challenging, but we also try to keep them engaging and fun,” Professor Eskes told us.

“We are developing approaches to promote healthy aging, so our technique can really be helpful to anyone who is starting to experience some kind of memory decline,” Dr. Asssecondi said.

“Although characterized by enormous variability, healthy older adults are more likely to exhibit lower working memory, and this is when the combination of working memory training and brain stimulation is more effective,” she told us.

“Based on the study results, it can be inferred that older adults (over 69) with executive dysfunction may derive the most benefit,” Dr. Becker noted.

COGNIZANT may also be most appropriate for people whose working memory has declined beyond a certain threshold, although this threshold is unclear at this time.

“With the data available,” Dr. Asssecondi said, “it is difficult to estimate an ‘optimal’ level of working memory loss for the approach to be effective. Indeed, this would be important information for future development and use in the healthy population.

“We would need to collect a large amount of data to get a fair and representative sample of the healthy population, and that is indeed something we would be interested in exploring,” she added.

“With my group,” she said, “using state-of-the-art statistical approaches, I’m working on ways to predict the effectiveness of cognitive intervention from baseline abilities, but we’re still an early stage.”

“There is still a lot of research to be done,” acknowledged Dr. Assecondi, “but from our work and that of other labs around the world, we know that the combination of cognitive training and brain stimulation shows promise not only for slowing cognitive decline in healthy adults, but also in clinical populations.

“I hope to contribute to the development of an effective and inexpensive technique that can be used at home and tailored to the specific needs of the individual, reaching those who otherwise could not access this technology,” she said. declared.

The authors are currently working with the University of Birmingham and Dalhousie University to identify partners who can help bring COGNIZANT to market.

“Home care technology will ultimately allow individuals to take control of their therapy,” Dr. Asssecondi concluded, “allowing them to age on their terms.”


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