Therapeutic games and brain stimulation mitigates cognitive decline in older adults

Older people may be able to boost their working memory with a new approach that couples online therapeutic games with a non-invasive brain stimulation technique.

Working memory is critical for people to function well in everyday life. This volatile form of memory holds and manipulates a finite amount of information over a short time interval, enabling people to interact with their environment in an effective and efficient manner. Working memory typically declines with age, with the decline in its capacity causing 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 devised a new technology to mitigate this decline.

The investigators refer to the technology as cognitive needs and skills training, or COGNISANT, and research published in Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience shows it can provide particular benefit for older people who have low working memory capacity (WMC).

The online therapeutic exercises, developed to improve working memory, attention and vigilance, are packaged in the type of engaging interface that will be familiar to online game or App users. Brain stimulation was administered via a mobile wireless device that delivers a small (2milliAmpère) transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) during training.

The study involved healthy people aged 55 to 76 years old, who were split into two groups. Both groups did the online games for 20 minutes day, over a five-day period. While one group also received tDCS, the other group wore the tDCS device, which resembles a swimming cap, but did not receive tDCS.

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