YOUR HEALTH: Exercising the brain and its senior impact

NEW YORK CITY – Which comes first: does exercise lead to better brain health? Or is it the other way around?

Can improving a senior’s mental capacity by playing brain games help increase his or her mobility?

73-year old Marlene Ray knows all too well that aging is tough on the body and the mind.

“My sister-in-law suffers from dementia, so I want to know what I can do to help anybody I can while my mind is still sharp.”

Ray is one of more than 400 seniors being recruited by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine for C-REM, the Cognitive Remediation to Improve Mobility study.

Joe Verghese, MBBS, MS, Professor of Neurology and of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said: “it’s based on the idea that to walk in the real world you need to engage your whole brain.”

Cognitive impairment in older adults has a variety of possible causes, including medication side effects, metabolic and/or endocrine derangements, delirium due to intercurrent illness, depression, and dementia, with Alzheimer`s dementia being most common.

Three days a week, for 45 minutes, half of the seniors in the study play computerized brain games that target the areas of the brain important to mobility and executive function, the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia, and the connections between.

Participants then perform timed walking and cognition tests, seeing how long it takes to walk a runway, while reciting alternate letters of the alphabet. Or finding a way out of a floor maze, while keeping one foot on a yellow guideline.

Ray, who performs with her church, says since beginning the program she’s seen a big improvement in movement and memory.

“I did a show with my choir in December, and I had to remember 12 songs.”

“We hope to see at the end of the trial we’ve reduced the amount of effort the brain has to do while walking, in other words, making the brain more efficient,” explained Verghese.

NEW RESEARCH:   Mobility disabilities represent the most prevalent disability among seniors.   Emerging evidence indicates that executive functions play an important role in maintaining mobility.   However, the use of cognitive remediation programs to enhance mobility has not been investigated in a full-scale randomized control trial.   The CREM study is a single-blind randomized control trial to examine the effect of computerized cognitive remediation versus computer-based health education training on mobility in 420 seniors.   The primary outcome is change in gait speed during normal walking and walking-while-talking conditions from baseline to post intervention.   Secondary outcomes are changes in mobility, mobility-related cognitive processes and neuroplasticity.   Results of this study will fill an important gap in the efficacy and feasibility of cognitive remediation to improve mobility in seniors. (Source: https://www.futuremedicine.com/doi/abs/10.2217/nmt-2016-0034?journalCode=nmt)

As part of the study, scientists are also using specialized scanners to measure brain activity.

An earlier, small pilot program showed participants who played the brain games improved their walking.

This large randomized trial is expected to run through 2020.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.