Science Says: Video Games May Improve Cognitive Abilities In Multiple Sclerosis Patients

“Video games will rot your brain,” is something I used to hear as a child. It’s not true, and in fact a newly published study claims that some video games may actually be helpful for the more than 2 million people around the world with Multiple Sclerosis.

The study, published in the Journal Radiology by researchers from Sapienza University in Rome, looked at the effect of so-called “brain-training” games on the cognitive abilities of MS patients, and found that these games can strengthen players’ neural connections.

While MS can have more outwardly obvious symptoms like muscle stiffness, weakness, spasms, among the many possible unseen symptoms of the condition is a phenomenon commonly known as “brain fog,” in which patients experience difficulty thinking, forgetfulness, and lack of concentration.

For the study, researchers investigated whether or not the therapeutic use of Nintendo’s “Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training” games — which use puzzles and memory challenges — had any effect on connections to the thalamus, which is effectively the brain’s central information hub.

Two dozen MS patients were split into two groups: One group spent eight weeks playing these games for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The other group was put on a “waiting list” for this therapy, meaning they would not be playing the games during those two months.

Subjects were evaluated at the beginning and end of the eight-week period using functional MRI scans. According to these scans, the patients who played the video games had significant increases in thalamic functional connectivity in brain areas “corresponding to the posterior component of the default mode network, which is one of the most important brain networks involved in cognition.”

“This increased connectivity reflects the fact that video gaming experience changed the mode of operation of certain brain structures,” explains lead researcher Dr. Laura De Giglio. “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 multiple sclerosis.”

Researchers say that, in addition to what was seen on the MRI scans, game players saw “significant improvements in test scores assessing sustained attention and executive function, the higher-level cognitive skills that help organize our lives and regulate our behavior.”

The next step would be to see whether this translates into improvements in other aspects of patients’ lives.

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