Fun and Games with MS
Cognitive decline – the slowing of our brain’s functioning – is often viewed as the most worrisome of all the possible effects of multiple sclerosis, but treatment options are rarely identified.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “Cognitive changes are common in people with MS — approximately half of all people with MS will develop problems with cognition. … In MS, certain functions are more likely to be affected than others:
- Memory (acquiring, retaining and retrieving new information)
- Attention and concentration (particularly divided attention)
- Information processing (dealing with information gathered by the five senses)
- Executive functions (planning and prioritizing)
- Visuospatial functions (visual perception and constructional abilities)
- Verbal fluency (word-finding)”
The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America featured cognition in a recent issue of The Motivator, and offers a thorough explanation of the current reasons thought to cause change in Cognitive Issues with Multiple Sclerosis: Research, Strategies and Support. Beyond the physical change due to the demyelination process or brain atrophy, they also suggest polypharmacy (use of multiple drugs that might slow cognition), gut bacteria and/or smoking may contribute to cognitive decline. MSAA cites that the number of people with MS affected by cognitive decline may be up to 70% and there are times I feel like I am in that group.
So I was especially excited to see a press release from the NYU Langone Medical center about their research into ways people with MS can improve their function using online brain training games. Dr. Leigh Charvot presented the results of An Adaptive Computer-Based Cognitive Training Program Improves Cognitive Functioning in Adults with Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Results of a Double-Blind Randomized Active-Placebo-Controlled 12-Week Trial at the recent American Academy of Neurology (AAN) convention in Vancouver.
Dr. Charvet’s team used PositScience’s online program Brain HQ for the study group and the other group used a placebo program. For this study they included 135 people who were already showing cognitive problems associated with their MS. Each participant was encouraged to train on their computer program at least one hour per day, five days per week and there was a technician available to help and also provide direction.They found that people affected by MS who used Brain HQ for one hour per day for the entire 12 week study had a positive increase in cognitive functioning by 29% compared to the placebo group’s 15% improvement. I bet you will agree that is a significant number and is very encouraging. The researchers suggest the improvement rate may be even higher than found in their study, because their placebo group did their activities on average 19 more hours than the test group.
Equally encouraging with these results is that the participants all did their brain activities at home, on their computers. Access to therapy care continues to be a problem for many people, and that can include lack of transportation to appointments outside the home and the high costs of treatment visits. Being able to do this training in the convenience of home and on our own schedule takes away part of the access problems.
“Many patients with MS don’t have the time or resources to get to the clinic several times a week for cognitive remediation, and this research shows remotely-supervised cognitive training can be successfully provided to individuals with MS from home,” says senior study author Lauren B. Krupp, MD, professor of neurology and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center. “Future studies will look at which patients with MS might respond most to cognitive remediation, and whether these improvements can be enhanced or sustained over longer periods of time.”
A remaining hurdle for this at home training is the cost – Brain HQ, the program that was used in this study, has a free program that includes access to the introductory activities but they also offer a subscription program for as little as $8 per month ($96/year). You may not be ready to buy a subscription and the free version allowed me to try their program, which proved to be quite challenging. Although not necessarily studied for MS, there are a number of other online brain training sites – one of the best I’ve found is NeuroNation, run by a group of prestigious neuroscience institutes from around the world. NeuroNation has a comprehensive free program and they also offer a premium program that has a fee to use at about the same price as BrainHQ. If you use any online brain training I would love to know which ones and your opinion as to their effectiveness.
Even though we’re adults, this research shows we need to play more games – especially the ones that will assist our brains in the fight against MS.
Wishing you well,