Cognitive Rehab: Train Your Brain

Cognitive Rehab: Train Your Brain

CREATED Jun 17, 2013

ATLANTA, Ga. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Mild cognitive impairment happens when a person has memory problems, but can still function well in everyday life. Now, there's good news: Doctors say a form of rehab can help these patients train their brains.

Remembering faces, names, where you put your keys; these are struggles for people with mild cognitive impairment.

A study being conducted at Emory University in Atlanta is attempting to improve memory through cognitive rehabilitation.

In one exercise, a therapist asks a series of questions to help the patient learn where an object is placed.  The idea is that the patient comes up with a reason that will help them remember the location. Other exercises focus on matching a facial feature with a person's name.

"You can do the bushy facial hair, and "Bushy Ben," would be an example of that," Benjamin M. Hampstead, Ph.D., and Research Clinical Neuropsychologist at Emory University, told Ivanhoe.

For one study, patients received three training sessions and had two MRI scans, one before the training and one after.  The MRIs after the cognitive rehab showed certain areas of the brain were much more active.

"So their brains remain plastic. They're capable of learning these new techniques," Dr. Hampstead was quoted as saying.

Up to 20 percent of people age 65 and up have mild cognitive impairment. Between one-third and two-thirds of them will go on to develop dementia or Alzheimer's. But Dr. Hampstead says starting therapy earlier can make a difference.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to prolong their functioning for as long as possible," Dr. Hampstead said.

Dr. Hampstead says that some patients with mild cognitive impairment will improve to normal. He says some factors like emotional distress may play a role in memory decline.


BACKGROUND: Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes. (SOURCE: www.mayoclinic.com)  

SYMPTOMS: The brain, like the rest of the body, changes with age. Many people notice gradually increasing forgetfulness as they age, but consistent or increasing concern about mental performance may suggest mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Some signs to watch out for include:

  • Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions, planning steps to accomplish a task or interpreting instructions
  • Getting lost in familiar environments

(SOURCE: www.mayoclinic.com)

MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT VS. ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE: Unlike Alzheimer's Disease (AD) where cognitive abilities gradually decline, the memory deficits in MCI may remain stable for years. However, some individuals with MCI develop cognitive deficits and functional impairment consistent with AD. Whether MCI is a disorder distinct from AD or a very early phase of AD is a topic of continuing investigation. (SOURCE: http://memory.ucsf.edu)

RISK FACTORS: The risk factors most strongly linked to MCI are the same as those for dementia: advancing age, family history of Alzheimer's or another dementia, and conditions that raise risk for cardiovascular disease. (SOURCE: http://www.alz.org

TREATMENT: No medications are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat mild cognitive impairment. However, the following coping strategies may be helpful for those with MCI:

  • Control cardiovascular risk factors to protect the heart and blood vessels, including those that support brain function.
  • Participate in mentally-stimulating and socially-engaging activities, which may help sustain brain function.

There is also Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy (CRT). CRT is the process of relearning cognitive skills that have been lost or altered as a result of damage to brain cells/chemistry. CRT Services are directed to achieve functional changes by:

  • Reinforcing, strengthening, or establishing previously learned patterns of behavior.
  • Establishing new patterns of cognitive activity or mechanisms to compensate for impaired neurological systems.
  • Tailoring interventions to help the individual be as independent as possible in the management of his or her everyday routines and responsibilities in their home and community.

(SOURCE: http://www.alz.orgwww.societyforcognitiverehab.org/)


Casey Bowden
Research Project Coordinator
Center for Rehabilitation Medicine
Emory University School of Medicine
(404) 712-4321