A research team has invented a 'brain training' game that could aid in improving the memory of patients suffering from the very earliest stages of dementia.
Amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) has been defined as the in between phase between 'healthy ageing' and dementia. Its features include day-to-day memory problems and difficulties of motivation. Currently, there are no approved drug cures for the cognitive deficiencies of patients affected by this condition.
Cognitive training has shown some advantages such as increasing the speed of attentional processing, for patients with aMCI, but training packages are normally uninteresting and boring, affecting patients' motivation. To conquer this problem, researchers at the University of Cambridge developed 'Game Show,' a memory game app, in association with patients with aMCI, and tested its effects on cognition and motivation.
The researchers indiscrimately allotted forty-two patients with amnestic MCI to either the cognitive training or control group. Patients in the cognitive training group participated and played the memory game for a total of eight one-hour sessions over a four-week period; participants in the control group went on with their clinic visits as usual.
The participants played the game on an iPad, and in the game the player takes part in a game show to win gold coins. In each round, they are faced with a challenge to relate different geometric patterns with different locations. The more they answer correctly, the more gold coins thys earn. Rounds continue until completion or after six incorrect attempts are made.
The better the player gets, the higher the number of geometric patterns presented - this helps to monitor the difficulty of the game to the patient’s performance to keep them motivated and busy. A game show host motivates the player to maintain and progress beyond their last played level.
The results revealed that patients who played the game made around one third fewer errors, needed fewer trials and enhanced their memory score by around 40%, showing that they had correctly recalled the locations of more information at the first attempt on a test of episodic memory.
Episodic memory is important for daily activities and is used, for example, when recollecting where we left our keys in the house or where we parked our car in a multi-story car park. Compared to the control group, the cognitive training group also withheld more complicated visual information after training.
Furthermore, participants in the cognitive training group showed that that they enjoyed using the gaming application and were interested in continuing playing across the eight hours of cognitive training. Their confidence and subjective memory also improved after playing the game. The researchers say that this shows that games can help increase to a maximum engagement skills with cognitive training.
"Good brain health is as important as good physical health. There's increasing evidence that brain training can be beneficial for boosting cognition and brain health, but it needs to be based on sound research and developed with patients," said co-inventor Barbara Sahakian. "It also need to be enjoyable enough to motivate users to keep to their programmes. Our game allowed us to individualise a patient's cognitive training programme and make it fun and enjoyable for them to use."
Lead scientist George Savulich added: "Patients found the game interesting and engaging and felt motivated to keep training throughout the eight hours. We hope to extend these findings in future studies of healthy ageing and mild Alzheimer's disease."
The study is published in The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.