People need to have a healthy lifestyle and good working memory to operate in daily life. This volatile form of memory enables people to interact with their surroundings effectively and efficiently by storing and manipulating a limited amount of information during a brief period. Working memory typically worsens as we age, and conditions like Parkinson’s, dementia, and stroke make it more difficult for people to go about their regular lives. Therefore, researchers at the University of Birmingham, UK, Dalhousie University, Canada, and University of Trento, Italy, have found a novel method that combines online therapy games with a non-invasive brain stimulation technology that may improve memory in older adults. It is known as COGNISANT, or cognitive needs and skills training, which can be beneficial for older persons with poor working memory.
Healthy individuals between the ages of 55 and 76 participated in the study and were divided into two groups. Over five days, each group played online games for 20 minutes every day. The second group donned the tDCS (Transcranial direct current stimulation), a form of neuromodulation device that uses constant, low direct current delivered via electrodes on the head, which resembles a swimming hat but did not get tDCS, while the first group also received it.
Before the study and two days after it ended, the researchers assessed baseline working memory function. Regardless of age or whether they received tDCS, they discovered that WMC (working memory capacity) dramatically improved in all subjects. Notably, older individuals with weak working memory showed substantial benefits from the combination of training games and tDCS. This subset consisted of individuals between the ages of 69.5 and 76. The advantage was noticeable on the first day of training and reached statistical significance by the end of the course.
“Approaches used for hospital rehabilitation are difficult to translate to the home setting, but 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,” said Dr. Sara Assecondi, the study’s author.
The brain workouts were created based on the clinical research of a neuropsychologist, Professor Gail Eskes which focuses on training the brain to enhance and repair cognitive skills. Dr. Assecondi noted that intensive training at the proper difficulty level is crucial for boosting mental capacity or effectiveness. Additionally, the game-like elements increase motivation and make it simpler to persevere through difficult periods. Professor Kim Shapiro, the study’s co-author, said that while the cognitive decline in older people is inevitable, methods like COGNISANT, when combined with regular exercise, can halt this decline and improve people’s quality of life.
In a prior study, the researchers established that using tDCS in conjunction with a working memory task-specific approach can assist young individuals with low WMC to perform better by enabling them to implement methods that they would not otherwise be able to. They are now working on developing other means of brain stimulation techniques that could be more effective than existing techniques.
The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.