Computerized brain training improves vets' post-traumatic cognitive performance

Veterans with persistent mental deficits due to mild traumatic brain injuries experienced improvements in their cognitive abilities after using a specialized computer program for several months, according to research presented at the Traumatic Brain Injury Conference in Washington, D.C., this week, STAT reports.

Eighty-three patients at five military and Veterans Affairs healthcare sites were enrolled in the study, which was funded by the Pentagon. Half were assigned to play computer games such as hangman and Boggle for an hour a day, five days a week, while the other half used the computerized brain training program, BrainHQ, in which they perform tasks like distinguishing between shapes on the screen and recalling details of previously shown images.

After 12 weeks of consistent use, the BrainHQ group showed an average of a 9-point improvement in an assessment of cognitive function and, after another 12 weeks without using the program, they had maintained this improvement. Overall, 77 percent of the veterans in this group showed improved cognitive function, while only 38 percent in the game-playing group did.

Despite these quantitative improvements on tests of memory and other primary cognitive functions, after the training, the veterans did not show any marked changes in the speed at which they completed real-world tasks such as reading labels and making change. Still, many of them reported improvements in frontal lobe-controlled abilities like scheduling their days, setting appointments and remembering why they were in a certain room.

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