Game application shows promise for improving memory in MCI patients

Written by Francesca Lake

Cognitive training has shown benefit for patients in the transitional stage between healthy aging and dementia. This stage, known as amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), is characterized by memory difficulties and motivational issues.
No treatments have been approved for Alzheimer’s disease since 2003, and there are no approved drugs for the treatment of cognitive impairment in aMCI patients. This highlights the need for new interventions. Alternative nonpharmacological strategies are being developed; however, currently available cognitive training methods generally do not address the motivational issues associated with this population, leading to high dropout rates.

To overcome this, a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge (UK) has developed a memory application, called ‘Game Show’. The application was developed in collaboration with patients with aMCI.

The game, played on an iPad, sees the player take part in a game show to win coins. Each round sees the player challenged to associate geometric patterns with different locations. Correct answers mean more gold coins, and the difficulty is tailored to the ability of the player. This aspect of the game helps keep the player engaged and motivated.

To test the application, 42 aMCI patients were randomly assigned to a cognitive training or control group. The training group played the game for eight 1-hour sessions over a 4-week period. The control group continued their usual clinic visits. The game-playing group maintained enjoyment and motivation, and saw self-confidence and self-rated memory improve. Episodic memory robustly improved.

“’Gamification’ maximizes engagement with cognitive training by increasing motivation and could complement pharmacological treatments for aMCI and mild Alzheimer’s disease,” concluded the team. “Larger, more controlled trials are needed to replicate and extend these findings.”

Sources: Savulich G, Piercy T, Fox C et al. Cognitive training using a novel memory game on an iPad in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). Int. J. Neuropsychopharmacol. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyx040 (2017);