Researchers at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, have first to discover that computerized brain training result in improved cognitive skills in individuals with bipolar disorder.
In a paper published in the October 17, 2017, edition of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the researchers suggest that brain exercises could be an effective non-pharmaceutical treatment for helping those with bipolar disorder function more effectively.
“Problems with memory, executive function, and processing speed are common symptoms of bipolar disorder, and have a direct and negative impact on an individual’s daily functioning and overall quality of life,” said lead investigator Eve Lewandowski, PhD, director of clinical programming for one of McLean’s schizophrenia and bipolar disorder programs and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “Improving these cognitive dysfunctions is crucial to helping patients with bipolar disorder improve their ability to thrive in the community,” Lewandowski added.
Researchers tested the impact of brain exercises in the bipolar population. They randomly assigned patients with bipolar disorder, aged 18-50, to either an intervention or an active comparison (control) group. The intervention group used a special regimen of neuroplasticity-based exercises from Posit Science — maker of the BrainHQ online exercises and apps — a total of 70 hours for 24 weeks. The exercises started from basic cognitive processes to more complex functions. The control group was asked to spend an equivalent amount of time on computerized exercises that focused on quiz-style games, like identifying locations on maps or solving basic math problems.
As a result, the intervention group participants displayed significant improvements in their overall cognitive performance and in specific domains on cognitive speed, visual learning, and memory.
This type of non-pharmaceutical intervention can significantly improve cognition in patients with bipolar disorder. In addition, Lewandowski said, “The study indicates that affordable and easily accessible web-based interventions can be effective for a broad group of patients.”
Lewandowski noted that further research is needed to determine how the improvements in these cognitive skills impact work and leisure activities and daily functioning in patients with bipolar disorder.