March 6, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO — Space travel can be very challenging to the brain, prompting researchers affiliated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to examine computerized brain training. Results from a pilot study show brain training could help. The exercises used in the pilot are from the BrainHQ app, marketed by Posit Science.

Researchers have long known that blasting off into space can have adverse impacts on the brain, from the g-forces associated with liftoff and landing, to the radiation, microgravity, and isolation of space travel. Effects include increased intracranial pressure, vision impairments, altered fluid levels in veins and arteries, white matter changes, vestibular dysfunction, and premature aging. All this, at a time when peak performance can be mission critical.

In the Increasing Cognitive Ability/Reserve Using Software (ICARUS) pilot study, researchers recruited employees from the Johnson Space Center with characteristics (age, education, discipline) resembling the astronaut population. The participants were asked to train on BrainHQ. Cognitive performance was measured using BrainHQ assessments, as well as the Cognition Test Battery, an independent suite of software tests developed specifically for NASA and used currently in research on astronauts.

In this pilot study, five participants were asked to train on BrainHQ for a total of 18 sessions over a 90-day period, for a total of about 15 hours of training. All participants improved both on internal measures within the BrainHQ exercises (with an average 71% increase in primary performance metrics) and on the independent NASA Cognition Test Battery (CTB), showing an average of 19% gains on the CTB. The pilot study demonstrated feasibility and provided data to appropriately size and power a further study, for which funding is being sought, to establish the significance of these preliminary findings.

“These are exciting results in a new area, which is literally about the New Frontier,” observed Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “Whether it’s returning to the moon or colonizing Mars, we know that addressing the cognitive challenges of long-term space flight is essential. These results fit nicely with what we’ve seen in building cognitive reserve in older adults and people recovering from brain injury and brain fog, as well as improving peak performers — such as special forces, law enforcement, or athletes — expected to perform at superhuman levels under extreme time and performance pressures.”

BrainHQ has shown benefits in hundreds of studies. Such benefits include gains in cognition (attention, processing speed, memory, decision making), in quality of life (depressive symptoms, confidence and control, safety, health-related quality of life) and in real-world activities (health outcomes, balance, driving, hearing, work). BrainHQ is now offered, without charge, by leading national and 5-star Medicare Advantage plans and by leading medical centers, clinics, and communities. Consumers can try a BrainHQ exercise for free daily at https://www.brainhq.com.