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News & Press: Industry News for MS (INforMS)

CMSC INforMS: Brain training video games 'can soothe symptoms of multiple sclerosis'

Tuesday, March 8, 2016  
Posted by: Elizabeth Porco
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Brain training games boost connections between neurons which play an important role in the mental decline of MS patients.

Playing brain training video games can soothe symptoms of multiple sclerosis, say scientists.

It boosts connections between neurons which play an important role in the mental decline suffered by patients.

A study of 24 sufferers found those who participated in a collection of Nintendo games called Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training had better functioning in the thalamus - one of the most vital area's involved in cognition.

Dr Laura De Giglio, a neurologist at Sapienza University in Rome, said: "This increased connectivity reflects the fact video gaming experience changed the mode of operation of certain brain structures.

"This means even a widespread and common use tool like video games can promote brain plasticity and can aid in cognitive rehabilitation for people with neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis."

MS - the most common disabling neurological condition - affects about 2.5 million people worldwide.

In Britain 50 people are diagnosed each week - usually in their 20s or 30s affecting more than 100,000.

The condition, which affects twice as many women as men, causes loss of mobility, sight problems, tiredness and excruciating pain.

The disease either become progressively worse with age - or strikes in brutal, periodic relapses - with many people left relying on wheelchairs.

The condition is caused when the body's immune system malfunctions, and instead of warding off diseases turns instead to attack the body's own nerves.

The study published online in Radiology randomly assigned 24 MS patients with cognitive impairment to either an eight-week home-based rehabilitation programme 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 MRI scans.

Symptoms of MS include weakness, muscle stiffness and difficulty thinking - a phenomenon often referred to as 'brain fog.'

The thalamus is a structure in the middle of the brain that acts as a kind of information hub.

Dr De Giglio said: "Functional MRI allows you to study which brain areas are simultaneously active and gives information on the participation of certain areas with specific brain circuits.

"When we talk about increased connectivity, we mean that these circuits have been modified, increasing the extension of areas that work simultaneously."

Afterwards the 12 patients in the video-game group had much better function in the thalamus - providing an example of the brain's plasticity or ability to form new connections throughout life.

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 higher-level cognitive skills that help organise our lives and regulate our behaviour.

The results suggest that video-game-based brain training is an effective option to improve cognitive abilities of patients with MS.

In the future, the researchers hope to study whether the plasticity induced by video games in MS patients is also related 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 programme together with other rehabilitative techniques.

BY MARK WAGHORN

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