The National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society awarded Victoria Leavitt, Ph.D., a $44,000 grant to study the effects of intellectual enrichment on cognitive decline in individual with multiple sclerosis. Participants in Dr. Leavitt's study will use iPads to engage in home-based activities such as reading, puzzle solving, and games for 12 weeks. Dr. Leavitt, a scientist in Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation, will correlate improvements in cognition with changes in neural network activity on fMRI. This one-year pilot project is titled, A Randomized Controlled Trial of Intellectual Enrichment to Build Cognitive Reserve in Multiple Sclerosis (NMSS grant # PP1854)
"This exciting study extends our innovative research of the cognitive effects of MS," said John DeLuca, PhD, VP of Research & Training. Prior work done at Kessler Foundation by Dr. James Sumowski showed for the first time the protective effect of cognitive reserve in people with MS. Dr. Sumowski, a research scientist in Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, found that individuals with MS who have a history of a mentally enriching lifestyle are better protected against cognitive decline (Neurology. 2010 June 15; 74(24): 1942). That cognitive reserve is an independent protective factor helps explain the lack of correlation between degree of brain atrophy and cognitive function.
That finding prompted Dr. Leavitt to investigate whether ongoing intellectual enrichment can boost cognitive reserve in people with MS. "Most of our cognitive reserve is developed early in life, during formal school years," explained Leavitt. "I am interested in whether adults with MS can build their reserve by engaging in intellectually stimulating activities, and whether that increase in reserve will protect against further cognitive decline. Moreover, if patients can achieve this using handheld devices like the iPad, this has the potential to change how we administer cognitive therapy. "
The pilot study will examine improvements in cognitive performance and correlations with changes in neural networks on fMRI. Rehabilitation interventions that strengthen neural networking in the brain are important in MS. "We believe that the brain may compensate for damage in one area by re-routing via other neural connections," noted Dr. Leavitt. "We expect that increasing cognitive reserve through intellectual enrichment will result in more efficient use of neural networks in individuals with MS."