Computer-based brain training improves cognitive symptoms in patients with MS, study shows

A newly published study from researchers at the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center showed that brain training had significantly greater impact on improving cognition in patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) than the computer games used as an active comparison group. The brain training used in the study was BrainHQ from Posit Science.

Cognitive impairment is reported to affect up to 70 percent of patients with MS, and there is no current, generally recommended method of treatment. While cognitive remediation has been used, it is expensive to administer in-person and requires patients to travel to appointments.

The researchers at NYU’s MS Comprehensive Care Center explored whether advances in computer technology and telehealth would permit remote administration of computerized brain training.

They enrolled 135 patients at Stony Brook Medicine, who were randomly assigned to either the brain-training group or the computer games active comparison group.

Both groups were asked to train for an hour a day, five days a week, for 12 weeks (a total of 60 hours), according to an automated schedule. Researchers reported that compliance was high in both groups, with the games group averaging 57 hours and the brain-training group averaging 38 hours.

Both groups improved in the overall cognitive measure.  However, despite training about one-third fewer hours, the brain-training group had nearly three times the gain of the games group.  The gain for the brain-training group in the overall cognitive composite score was about 29 percent.

In addition to the objective neuropsychological battery, patients were asked, as a secondary measure, to self-assess whether they experienced any improvement in cognition.  In the brain-training group, 56.7 percent reported experiencing improvement, as compared to 31 percent in the games group.

The researchers selected BrainHQ exercises, because most of the exercises emphasize some aspect of visual and/or auditory speed of processing. Deficits in speed of processing are a signature cognitive symptom in MS patients.

“This trial demonstrates that computer-based cognitive remediation accessed from home can be effective in improving cognitive symptoms for individuals with MS,” said Dr. Leigh Charvet, the study’s lead author. “The remote delivery of an at-home test and findings of cognitive benefit may also be generalizable to other neurological conditions in which cognitive function is compromised.”

The study was published in PLOS ONE Neurology in an article entitled “Cognitive Function in Multiple Sclerosis Improves with Telerehabilitation: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial.” It is believed to be the largest study, to date, measuring the impact of brain training on cognition in MS patients.

“We are encouraged by this publication of results by independent researchers in yet another clinical population,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, maker of the BrainHQ exercises used in the study. “With the assistance of other researchers and investors, these results will play a part in our plan to bring digital therapies to market after obtaining appropriate regulatory approvals.”

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