Video Games Boost Brain Connectivity in Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Video games designed to rehabilitate some cognitive deficiencies can help brain connectivity in patients with multiple sclerosis.

Video games designed to rehabilitate some cognitive deficiencies can help brain connectivity in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to findings published in Radiology.

Researchers from Sapienza University in Rome studied the thalamus of 24 MS patients in order to investigate the connection between the use of a video game based cognitive rehabilitation program. The researchers noted that thalamic damage of alternations on brain function are important factors in the cognitive dysfunctions in patients with MS. The patients were assigned to either the intervention (30 minute daily gaming sessions for five days per week) or the wait list group and evaluated with fMRI at baseline and eight weeks. An additional 11 healthy patients got fMRIs at baseline.

The video games the patients participated in were a collection of Nintendo games called Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training. The games included puzzles, word memory and other mental challenges. They were designed by Japanese neuroscience Ryuta Kawashima, MD.

“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,” study leader Laura De Giglio, MD, PhD, said in a press release. “When we talk about increased connectivity, we mean that these circuits have been modified, increasing the extension of areas that work simultaneously.”

The 12 video game group patients demonstrated increases in thalamic function at the follow up mark, the study authors reported. They added that this study provided evidence for the brain’s ability to perform new network function involved in cognition throughout life.

“This increased connectivity reflects the fact that video gaming experience changed the mode of operation of certain brain structures,” De Giglio said. “This means that 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 MS.”

Additionally, the study authors said that the video game group patients showed improvements in test scores on activities measuring sustained attention and executive function (ie, the high level cognitive function that helps organization and behavior).

In the future, the researchers plan to study whether the plasticity generated by video games in MS patients is associated with the improvements observed in other aspects of their daily lives. They also want to examine how video games can be absorbed into other existing rehabilitation programs together with other rehabilitation techniques.