Playing Video Games For Multiple Sclerosis Treatment?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is chronic neurodegenerative disease that attacks the central nervous system and is characterized by the appearance of demineralizing injuries (of the protecting layer on nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord. The causes of MS are currently unknown, but scientists believe it may have an auto-immune component. There is currently no multiple sclerosis treatment, but there are some medications that help with some symptoms quite efficiently. There are some medications that work to slow down the deterioration of myeline, which is produced in the nerve fibers. There are other non-drug medications that are aimed at treating the behavioral and cognitive problems that are created by this illness (neuropsychological and psychotherapy rehabilitation).

Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
Video games for Multiple Sclerosis treatment

The symptoms of MS are varied and appear suddenly, then progress slowly and over time. The first symptom is usually tingling in the extremities, muscle weakness, lack of coordination (ataxia), visual alterations, muscle stiffness, speaking problems (dysarthria), unbalanced walking… With time, frontal-subcortical cognitive deterioration also appears, which is characterized by a slowing in processing speed (patients complain of having a hard time thinking, like their head was filled with clouds), attention problems, which can cause memory problems and executive problems (problems with planning, mental flexibility, reasoning…). Damage to the thalamus, a structure in the center of the brain that works like the information nucleus, which connects with other brain areas also seems to play an important role in the cognitive dysfunctions seen in MS. 

A group of doctors at the Neurology and Psychiatry Department at the University of Sapienza in Rome recently studied the effects that brain training video games, like CogniFit have on the thalamus. To do this, they used a functional MRI that allowed them to see the brain connections in resting patients (without doing any specific task). The study was made up of 24 patients that were randomly assigned to either training sessions or the control group (they were put on the wait list to start the treatment). The multiple sclerosis treatment consisted of 8 weeks of cognitive rehabilitation at home. The program that the patients had to follow was 30 minutes of video game brain stimulation, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks in total. The exercises included puzzles and word memory games, as well as other cognitive tasks. The researchers saw that the treatment group increased their brain connection in the thalamus. Aside from this increase in brain connectivity, the training was also correlated to an improvement in attention and executive functions.

The results are proof of the brain’s plasticity throughout our lives, and how cognitive training with video games can improve this plasticity. According to Dr. De Giglio, head researcher of the study, this study shows that video games can promote brain plasticity and may be a big help in the cognitive rehabilitation in neurological diseases like MS. However, we have to wait and see if these cognitive improvements will carry over to daily life, improving the day-to-day of people with MS.