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Cognitive Training Improves Cognitive Performance in People with Parkinsonís Disease

A computer training program may help people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) who experience cognitive impairment, according to a new study published in the September 6 online edition of Neurology.

Cognitive impairment affects most people with Parkinson’s disease to some degree, and is common in advanced Parkinson’s disease. Major symptoms of cognitive impairment include reduced speed of cognitive processing and reduced visual attention, which may make everyday activities, such as driving, more difficult. Cognitive impairment is different from dementia, which is a more severe loss of abilities that interferes with daily living.

Studies of older adults who experience cognitive impairment associated with aging, but who are not living with Parkinson’s, have shown that cognitive training can improve both skills.

Researchers led by Jerri D. Edwards, Ph.D., at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL, were interested in finding out whether cognitive training might also help people with Parkinson’s disease. The study compared 44 participants with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease who completed a three-month cognitive speed of processing training (SOPT) program with a control group of 43 participants with Parkinson’s who did not complete the training. The average age of participants was 69 and average age of diagnosis was 62.

The SOPT program featured computer-based exercises designed to strengthen visual attention and processing speed. Participants’ visual processing ability was measured before and after the training using a test known as useful field of view.

Results

  • Participants with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease who completed the three-month training program showed significantly greater improvements in cognitive speed of processing and visual attention compared to the control group.
  • The two groups that benefitted most from the training were participants who were diagnosed with PD at a younger age and participants who had Parkinson’s disease for a longer duration.

What Does It Mean?

Cognitive training has been studied extensively in people with dementia and in elderly people without Parkinson’s. The unique innovation of this study is its focus on people with Parkinson’s disease.

Participants with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease and cognitive impairment who completed approximately 20 hours of the SOPT program over three months experienced significantly greater improvements in their ability to process visual information than the control group. Two groups of participants – those who were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at an earlier age and those who had the disease for a longer period of time and exhibited greater cognitive impairment – showed the greatest improvement.

Further research is needed to find out whether the improvements resulting from SOPT training transfer to the performance of everyday activities, such as driving, and if the benefits are long-lasting. The studies of SOPT training in healthy older adults did report lasting improvements in cognitive performance and driving ability.

Based on these initial results, cognitive training shows promise as a new treatment option that may make a difference for people with Parkinson’s disease who experience cognitive impairment: unlike Parkinson’s disease medications, it has no side effects; it is easy to use but when compared to medications, requires a major time commitment.

Reference: Edwards JD, Hauser RA, O'Connor ML, Valdes, EG, Zesiewicz, TA, Uc, EY (2013) Randomized trial of cognitive speed of processing training in Parkinson disease. Neurology 81:1-7. DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a823ba http://dx.doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a823ba

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Source Date: Oct 08 2013