October 14, 2022
A recently published study conducted at Mexico General Hospital has demonstrated that NeuroTracker’s perceptual-cognitive training provides far transfer to improved motor skills. Here we’ll give an overview of the new research findings.
Grasping and handling objects with hands and fingers while making coordinated movements is referred to as manual dexterity, or fine motor skills. These are the most sophisticated motor skills we can execute (think of an expert pianist), as well as a fundamental part of the skills we require in daily life.
As part of the normal cognitive effects associated with aging, manual dexterity typically declines along with other functions such as attention, memory, and information processing speed. In healthy aging the decline isn’t very significant. However, for common cognitive impairments caused by age-related neurodegeneration, such as dementia, loss of fine motor control can affect daily quality of life.
The degree of loss of hand dexterity has also been established in research to differentiate between mild, moderate, and severe dementia. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is common in older aged adults, and is a precursor to the onset of dementia, which is also associated with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The amount of people with MCI and dementia are increasing year on year, affecting around 22% of people over the age of 65. 50% people over 85 years old typically experience mild to severe forms dementia and AD.
One of the most pressing challenges to improve the quality of life of older adults is to find interventions that can reduce both physical and mental disabilities.
38 hospital patients over 65 years of age volunteered for the study. Half of the participants were diagnosed with mild dementia due to the onset of AD, and the other half were diagnosed with MCI and associated memory difficulties.
All participants completed a NeuroTracker training intervention consisting of 36 sessions (approximately 3.5 hours of training), carried out over several weeks. Due to their cognitive impairments, the number of targets tracked was reduced to 2 (the standard being 4 targets). The NeuroTracker scores and learning rates were also used an independent measure of cognitive functions.
Before and after the intervention, the following assessments were completed.
Grooved Pegboard Test (GPT) - assesses psychomotor speed and fine motor control through accurate placement of 25 pegs into differently orientated keyholes.
Minnesota Manual Dexterity Test (MMDT) - evaluates fine and coarse manual dexterity, performed with one and two hands, as well manual motor speed and speed in hand–eye coordination.
NeuroTracker scores were expectedly much lower than healthy older people, even at the level of 2 target tracking. However initial learning was significantly higher than expected over the first 10 to 20 sessions. For these participants, overall performance was lower in the MCI group with memory impairments, than in the mild dementia group (DM).
Overall, the NeuroTracker data showed that age-related cognitive impairment can be clearly differentiated from healthy aging, and that there is a significant learning response.
The pre-post manual dexterity assessments both showed strong far transfer effects from the NeuroTracker intervention, also with similar effects for both groups. Participants could execute the tests significantly more quickly and accurately following the training.
These consistent improvements in fine motor skills suggests that the benefits of cognitive training are both robust and reliable. Additionally, the researchers of the study advise that the findings show only 15 sessions (or 90 minutes) of training is likely to be sufficient for such transfer, based on the high initial NeuroTracker learning responses.
The results support other research in older populations with subjective memory complaints, which showed far transfer in motor skills on the Trail Making Test and the Stroop test of psychomotor speed. Also related, another clinical study showed that NeuroTracker training significantly reduced fall-risk with elderlies in care homes, due to positive far transfer across 5 assessments of gross motor skills.
Along with previous studies showing significant benefits across a range of high-level cognitive functions for older adults completing NeuroTracker interventions, this research points towards 3D multiple object tracking being an accessible and efficient way to counter the physical and cognitive effects of both healthy aging and age-related neurodegeneration.
Little research in neuroscience exists for improving neurophysical abilities later in life, but it seems to be a promising research avenue that could be very helpful for maintaining a higher quality of life into old age.
‘Effect of 3D-Multiple Object Tracking Training on Manual Dexterity in Elderly Adults with Dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment’, Ángel Daniel Santana-Vargas, et al.
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