A study published online (ahead of print) in the International Journal of Neuroscience indicates that “more is better,” when it comes to brain training for Parkinson’s patients. Researchers used computerized exercises now found in the BrainHQ online program from Posit Science, in this first of its kind dose-response study.
The NIH-funded researchers from the University of South Florida were interested in learning whether more training resulted in better outcomes and whether training gains would persist over time. They found that more training resulted in better outcomes, and that training benefits persisted over the six-month study period.
These results are an extension of positive findings in a prior study by the same researchers. That prior randomized control trial of 87 adults (aged 40 and older with mild to moderate stages of Parkinson’s) compared a 44-person intervention group, which engaged in computerized speed of processing training (for 20 hours over a three-month period) with a 43-person delayed treatment control group.
The primary outcome measure was performance on the Useful Field of View (UFOV) assessment, which provides an objective measure of visual processing speed and attention. Two secondary outcome measures examined self-reports of cognitive abilities and depression.
Researchers found significant improvements in the training group in UFOV performance. The secondary outcome measures did not yield significant results.
Other studies in healthy older adults have shown that brain training that improves UFOV scores also improves standard measures of cognition (e.g., speed, attention, and executive function), as well as measures of affect (e.g., mood and confidence) and real world function (e.g., driving, functional independence, self-rated health).
This follow-on study permitted people in both the intervention and delayed treatment groups in the prior study to use BrainHQ for another 3 months. The delayed treatment group was encouraged to train for 20 hours, while the intervention group was permitted to train as much as they wanted. This was designed to create dose-response data for the six-month follow-up measurement date of the prior study.
Of those who had already trained with the speed of processing exercises, 52% continued to train in the optional 3-month follow-on period, and 84% of the delayed treatment group trained.
The researchers found that each hour of training, on average, resulted in a 3.53 millisecond improvement in the UFOV assessment, such that 20 hours of training would lead to an average gain of 72.6 milliseconds faster performance on the UFOV assessment. Other studies have shown that healthy older adults decline at a rate of 15.6 milliseconds per year in the UFOV assessment, as they age.
Researchers looked at training results for the initial intervention group and found significant changes persisted across the six-month period. This is the first persistence study in Parkinson’s. Other studies have shown some significant persistence among healthy older adults for as long as a 10-year study period.
This study used a suite of five visual speed of processing exercises. Those exercises are part of the commercially-available BrainHQ platform under the exercises names: Double Decision, Target Tracker, Visual Sweeps, Hawk Eye and Eye for Detail.
“These are encouraging results,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, the maker of BrainHQ. “This is the first evidence that ‘more is better’ when it comes to training people living with Parkinson’s, as well as the first evidence in this population that these changes persist. We plan to continue research in this area, with the goal of taking a training regimen in this area to regulators for approval and distribution to people living with Parkinson’s.”
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