Video games can be used as a brain-training tool to help improve cognitive function in multiple sclerosis patients.
Multiple sclerosis affects more than two million people worldwide. The degenerative autoimmune disorder attacks the central nervous system, specifically the insulating coating around nerve cells. In 50 percent of all MS patients, this leads to cognitive dysfunction, which may be caused by damage to the thalamus. Similar to an information hub, this area connects other areas of the brain, so damage to it could lead to poor neural connections elsewhere, too. To strengthen or repair these connections, researchers in Italy found video games were incredibly beneficial in just a short amount of time.
The study, published in Radiology, was led by Dr. Laura De Giglio from the neurology and psychiatry department at Sapienza University in Rome. De Giglio and her team designed a cognitive rehab therapy using the game Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training, a series of mental challenges based on the work of Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima.
The researchers brought together 24 MS patients suffering from cognitive impairment and separated them into two groups. The first took part in an eight-week, home-based rehab program of one 30-minute game session a day, five days a week. The second group served as the control and did nothing. At the beginning and end of the experiment, each participant was evaluated with cognitive tests and resting state MRI scans, which can shine a light on neural connectivity.
“Functional MRI allows you to study which brain areas are simultaneously active and gives information on the participation of certain areas with specific brain circuits,” De Giglio said in a press release. “When we talk about increased connectivity, we mean that these circuits have been modified, increasing the extension of areas that work simultaneously.”
At the end of the eight weeks, the video-game-playing group showed significant improvement in their cognitive test results as well as increased thalamic functional connectivity in one of the most important parts of the brain that deals with cognition. The results display our brain’s plasticity, the ease with which it forms new neural connections over the course of our lives.