(SAN FRANCISCO) — A new study — made available online in advance of print by The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and conducted by a team from Emory University — found that brain training could be helpful in patients coping with heart failure. The brain exercises used in the study were from Posit Science, the maker of the online brain training app BrainHQ.
While heart failure is distressing alone, its interaction with cognitive decline creates a downward spiral. The study authors point out that heart failure “negatively impacts function in most cognitive domains” adversely affecting a patient’s “capacity to participate in essential self-care activities, such as managing complex medication regimens and adhering to dietary restrictions.” The cognitive impact is often serious, with an estimated 25 to 50 percent of stable chronic heart failure patients experiencing pre-dementia conditions of mild to moderate cognitive impairment.
This is the first study to measure the impact of a combined regimen of physical exercise and brain exercise on heart failure patients.
The study was a three-arm randomized controlled trial, in which 69 patients were assigned to one of three groups for 90 days: 1) an intervention group asked to engage in aerobic exercise three times per week (walking for 30-45 minutes); 2) an intervention group asked to engage in the same aerobic exercise program plus an additional total of 40 hours (over 90 days) of computerized auditory training exercises; and 3) a control group asked to engage in a stretching and flexibility protocol 2-3 times per week.
The patients were measured with various standard tests at the beginning of the study, after 3 months and after 6 months. The researchers reported that their main finding was that the exercise-plus-cognitive-training group had significant improvement in verbal memory at 3 months, and a trend for sustained improvement at 6 months, compared to the exercise only and control groups. In addition, the exercise-plus-cognitive-training group also had significant improvement in a functional measure – the 6-minute walking test – at 3 months, compared to the other groups, which was not sustained at 6 months (3 months after the training ended).
The researchers acknowledged prior studies using Posit Science brain exercises in clinical populations with heart failure. The 40-person MEMOIR Study, led by Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) researchers, showed significant gains in a standard measure of memory in the brain exercise group, as compared to an active control (engaged in health education activities). They also found a trend indicating the intervention group consumed fewer health resources, with half the healthcare costs. A subsequent University of South Florida (USF) study found the brain training group performed significantly better at a measure of speed of processing (associated with functional independence) than the control group. Another USF Study showed significant gains in global cognition, speed, verbal memory and learning. IUPUI researchers also have found significant gains that re-normalized BDNF (a blood measure of brain health).
The Emory researchers observed that their findings are consistent with earlier findings that suggest computerized brain training “may be an effective strategy for improving memory in persons with [heart failure].”
“Chronic heart failure is an often intractable, devastating, and costly condition,” observed Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “We are encouraged by these latest results, and plan to work with regulators to get this technology into the hands of patients it may help as soon as practical.”