A new study suggests that playing a certain kind of video game strengthens neural connections in the brains of people with multiple sclerosis, improving cognitive abilities. Researchers hope to study whether the plasticity induced by video games in MS patients is linked to improvements in other aspects of their daily lives. They also plan to look at how the video game can be integrated into a rehabilitation program.
Researchers, led by Dr. Laura De Giglio, from the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry at Sapienza University in Rome, studied the effects of a video game-based cognitive rehabilitation program on the thalamus in patients with MS. They used a collection of Nintendo video games, called Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training, which train the brain using puzzles, word memory and other mental challenges.
Twenty-four MS patients with cognitive impairment were randomly assigned to either take part in an eight-week, home-based rehabilitation program — consisting of 30-minute gaming sessions, five days per week — or be put on a wait list, serving as the control group. Patients were evaluated by cognitive tests and by 3-Tesla resting state functional MRI at baseline and after the eight-week period. At follow-up, the 12 patients in the video-game group had significant increases in thalamic functional connectivity in brain areas corresponding to the posterior component of the default mode network, which is one of the most important brain networks involved in cognition.
The modifications in functional connectivity shown in the video game group after training corresponded to significant improvements in test scores assessing sustained attention and executive function. The results suggest that video-game-based brain training is an effective option to improve cognitive abilities of patients with MS.