Brain training. Light up the parts that memory can't usually reach

Chiaravalloti ND, Wylie G, Leavitt V, Deluca J. Increased cerebral activation after behavioral treatment for memory deficits in MS. J Neurol. 2012 Jan [Epub]

Deficits in new learning and memory are common in persons with multiple sclerosis (MS), though few studies have examined the efficacy of memory retraining in MS. Previous research from our laboratory has demonstrated that the modified Story Memory Technique (mSMT. A non-medical, behavioral memory therapy) significantly improves new learning and memory in MS.

The present double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial was designed to examine changes in cerebral activation following Story memory technique treatment. Sixteen individuals with clinically definite MS were randomly assigned to treatment (n = 8) or placebo-control (n = 8) groups, matched for age, education, and disease characteristics. Baseline and follow-up fMRI (functional MRI) was collected during performance of learning and memory tasks.

No baseline activation differences on fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) were seen between groups. After treatment, greater activation was evident in the treatment group during performance of a memory task within a widespread cortical network involving frontal, parietal, precuneus, and parahippocampal regions.

All participants in the treatment group showed increased activation in frontal and temporal regions in particular. In contrast, the control group showed no significant changes in cerebral activation at follow-up. A significant association was found between increased activation in the right middle frontal gyrus and improved memory performance post-treatment.

The increased activation seen likely to reflect increased use of strategies taught during treatment when learning new information. This study is the first to demonstrate a significant change in cerebral activation resulting from a behavioral memory intervention in an MS sample. Behavioral interventions can show significant changes in the brain, validating clinical utility.

Brain training. Can you make a story to remember these images. Will test next week.

It has been reported previously that brain training for learning things can have positive benefit in memory tasks. The LINK METHOD of learning is a method whereby you may make simple associations between items in a list, linking them with a vivid image containing the items. Taking the first image, create a connection between it and the next item (perhaps in your mind smashing them together, putting one on top of the other, or suchlike.) Then move on through the list linking each item with the next. The STORY METHOD is very similar, linking items together with a memorable story featuring them. The flow of the story and the strength of the images give you the cues for retrieval. This type of brain training was used in this study.

If you think your braining training is doing so good, you might like to see evidence that this is doing something in the brain, in support of the idea. Using functional magnetic resonance, which is imaging that detects a radioactive oxygen dye. When your brain is active it needs energy and uses oxygen in this this process. So the dye accumulates where the brain is active. This can be seen by the scanner.

The report showed that people who have used the Story Method technique were using additional bits of their brain in memory tasks. Probably it is providing some form of plasticity of the nerve circuitary that is facilitating memory formation.

This study demonstrates that behavioral interventions can have a positive effect on brain function in people with cognitive disability caused by MS. This is an important step in validating the clinical utility of cognitive rehabilitation.