Saturday, July 12, 2008

Computer Program Significantly Improves Memory in Healthy Elders-Study

Declining memory is thought to be a normal part of the aging process. It is also seen in the presence of inflammatory diseases, schizophrenia, neurodegenerative diseases and dementia. According to a new study, a computer based training program, dubbed “BrainStim”, significantly improved working memory in older healthy adults. The study results were presented at the 18th Meeting of the European Neurological Society, in Nice, France.

First author Iris K. Penner, PhD, from the University of Basel, in Switzerland, says the working program is based on a 1974 model published by Baddeley and Hitch that recognizes working memory as a temporary storage unit that we all use on a daily basis. Dr. Penner says, "So if, for example, you go to the supermarket, and you would like to remember what to buy, that is stored for a short period in working memory. If there is a problem with working memory, in the future you may have problems in other cognitive domains. That's why we focus the training on that central function."

The program was developed in three parts, with simplicity in mind. If performance drops, the tasks becomes less difficult; conversely it provides more challenge to the user, based on successful responses. The three parts involve the participants in finding their way on a city map after receiving visual or verbal instructions, finding matching pairs of cards based on a child’s card games, and recalling numbers provided at baseline, while performing an arithmetic task. The programs respectively target spatial orientation, visual object memory and the updating function of the central executive component of working memory, and working memory for recall.

"BrainStim" can be installed on any computer, and is based on Java runtime programming. The authors conclude, "In this concern, BrainStim seems to positively influence brain functionality in healthy elderly subjects and might therefore be a useful tool in prevention."

BrainStim is not yet available commercially, but the authors hope to develop further models, stating that a major German bookseller is interested in the training program.

Source: - 18th Meeting of the European Neurological Society: Abstract P485. Presented Monday, June 9, 2008.

Related: Cognitive Training May Have Long-Term Benefits on Activities of Daily Living in the Elderly