October 16, 2012

(San Francisco, CA) A new study shows the effectiveness of brain training in improving cognitive function in people with HIV. The study, recently published in the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, demonstrated that brain training exercises not only improve core brain processing speed but also crucial measures of real-world activities in adults with HIV. Posit Science was the system used in the study. The findings could have widespread implications.

Modern anti-retroviral therapy has turned HIV into a chronic condition people often live with for decades. Recent research has shown that HIV can have subtle but important effects on the brain, leading to cognitive slowing and difficulties performing everyday activities. In fact, 30%–60% of adults living with HIV experience cognitive problems at some point in the illness, a condition that researchers now recognize as “HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders” (HAND). Prior to this study, no noninvasive treatments have been proven effective in improving cognitive function in patients with HIV.

“It’s imperative for people with HIV and their treatment teams be proactive in addressing cognitive problems as they emerge,” comments David E. Vance, PhD, MGS, the study’s lead author and Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Associate Director, Center for Nursing Research, University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Without effective treatment, these cognitive problems—which act like premature aging—can lead to difficulties with working and living independently.”

Results from this study not only showed benefits on gold-standard measures of brain processing speed and independent living; but also more than 90% of volunteers who received the training reported improvement in their thinking abilities, memory, and attention. “This study shows people with HIV now have a non-pharmacologic, affordable tool that can improve cognitive functioning in areas that directly affect quality of life,” states Vance. “Based on this research, my team would suggest these exercises to people with HIV who have noticed cognitive issues and who want to improve their brain health.”

In the study, forty-six people with HIV took part in a randomized, blinded, controlled trial comparing computerized brain speed training from Posit Science to a control group that did no cognitive training. Researchers measured cognitive function before and after the study period. The Posit Science training group showed significant improvements relative to the control group in visual speed and attention, a core measure of brain function, as well as in timed instrumental activities of daily living, which measure how quickly a person can do everyday activities.

The Posit Science brain training exercises used in the study focused on processing speed, divided attention, attentional speed, sustained attention, and rapid visual search and memory tasks and are available online at www.BrainHQ.com. Each exercise uses an intelligent algorithm to constantly adjust, so that each user has a unique journey through the program and experiences maximum benefit.”We are very excited to have clinical evidence of our brain training’s effectiveness for people with HIV,” said renowned neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, PhD, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Posit Science and professor emeritus of the University of California San Francisco. “Our goal as a company is to make these training exercises available to everyone who can benefit from them—and as the studies pile up showing they work in different populations, we look forward to helping millions of people who would like to improve cognitive function for any one of a number of reasons.”

Neil Giuliano, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, noted that this may open new possibilities for taking on the cognitive issues that are a key component of addressing HIV and aging.

“By 2015, most Americans with HIV will be over 50, and San Francisco AIDS Foundation is deeply committed to ensuring the evolving needs of this population are met,” Giuliano said. “This is an important pilot study, and one that merits further research to better understand the role addressing cognitive function can play in achieving better long term outcomes for older adults with HIV.”