White Matter Changes Associated with Computerized Cognitive Training in Healthy Aging
Ray, Nicholas Ross
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As our population grows ever older, the physical and mental declines associated with age contribute to a lower quality of life and present an escalating burden to our health care system. Academic researchers and private companies are both striving to identify the cause of age-related declines and develop interventions to alleviate them. Several important cognitive abilities, such as processing speed, memory, and executive function, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of age; as is the integrity of white matter in tracts like the genu, splenium, cingulum, fornix, superior longitudinal fasciculus, and uncinate fasciculus that support these higher order cognitive functions. The current study analyzed data from a randomized controlled clinical trial that measured cognition and white matter DTI in older adults before and after either 50 hours of laboratory-based online brain training using Posit Science’s BrainHQ application, or 50 hours of playing casual online video games (the active control condition). Deterministic white matter tractography was used to measure FA in the six tracts mentioned above. We found only marginal evidence that BrainHQ training increased FA in the left cingulum. We did observe improvements to processing speed and executive function for the BrainHQ group above and beyond the active control condition. We also found that both groups improved in memory. In addition, we observed correlations between baseline FA in the genu and cingulum and processing speed, and between baseline FA in the fornix and memory. These baseline correlations do not survive correction for multiple comparisons. However, when we examine the relationship between changes in FA in the aforementioned regions and changes to associated cognition, we find a significant relationship between change in FA in the fornix and change in memory performance for the BrainHQ group.