Health

Let’s Talk: Web-Based Chats Boost Brain Function in Older Adults

Summary: Internet conversations can significantly improve the cognitive functions of socially isolated older adults. The trial, known as I-CONECT, involved 186 participants aged 75 and older who participated in structured video chats four times a week, which helped improve memory and executive functions, especially in people with mild cognitive impairment.

Over the course of a year, these interactions not only increased cognitive scores, but also improved emotional well-being and increased connectivity in brain regions associated with attention. The findings suggest that digital conversations may be a viable strategy to combat social isolation and its cognitive impacts.

Highlights:

  1. Improved cognitive function: Participants in the I-CONECT trial who engaged in frequent digital conversations showed improvements in overall cognitive test scores and language-based executive functions.
  2. Improved emotional well-being: Both the control and intervention groups experienced improvements in their emotional health, indicating that regular social contact, even brief ones, can have positive effects.
  3. Neurological benefits: Brain imaging revealed increased connectivity within the intervention group’s dorsal attention network, highlighting the potential of conversational interactions to improve brain function.

Source: Harvard

Simply talking to other people can boost different brain functions in socially isolated older adults, even when the interactions are Internet-based, according to a new clinical trial from Massachusetts General Hospital.

The results are published in The gerontologist.

“We launched the first proof-of-concept behavioral intervention study in 2010, almost a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing attention to the detrimental effects of social isolation on our overall health,” explained lead author Hiroko H. Dodge, principal investigator. trials funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Measures of emotional well-being improved in both control and intervention groups, suggesting that emotion can be boosted by brief weekly phone calls, while improving cognitive function requires conversational engagement frequent. Credit: Neuroscience News

The 186-participant phase 2 randomized trial, called I-CONECT, used the Internet and webcams to enable conversational interactions between trained interviewers and socially isolated people aged 75 and older who had normal or impaired cognition. light cognitive.

Interviewers alternated the speakers assigned to each participant to enhance the novelty of the experience, provided user-friendly devices allowing participants without any Internet/webcam experience to easily engage in video conversations, and encouraged conversations with themes standardized daily newspapers and picture prompts.

Thirty-minute conversations were conducted four times a week for six months, then twice a week for an additional six months. A control group of similar individuals did not participate in such conversations, but the intervention and control groups received weekly 10-minute telephone recordings.

After the initial six-month period, the intervention group had a higher overall cognitive test score than the control group, with a large effect size among those with mild cognitive impairment. Additionally, participants in the intervention group with normal cognition had scores indicating higher language-based executive function.

At the end of the final six-month period, participants in the intervention group with mild cognitive impairment had test scores indicating better memory-related brain function than those in the control group.

Measures of emotional well-being improved in both control and intervention groups, suggesting that emotion can be boosted by brief weekly phone calls, while improving cognitive function requires conversational engagement frequent.

Additionally, brain imaging tests showed that the intervention group had increased connectivity within the dorsal attention network, a region important for maintaining visuospatial attention, compared to the control group, although This result should be interpreted with caution due to the limited number of participants evaluated. due to COVID-19 research restrictions.

At the request of former trial participants who wanted to have ongoing conversations, Dodge and his colleagues created a nonprofit organization, the I-CONNECT Foundation. The foundation provides free social interactions to older adults isolated from the community, using the same materials used in the trial.

“Our next goal is to expand these activities to reach more isolated people in need, as well as delve deeper into the biological mechanisms underlying how social interactions impact our brain functions,” Dodge said.

“Providing stimulating and frequent conversational interactions via the Internet could be an effective dementia risk reduction strategy at home against social isolation and cognitive decline.

“We plan to expand this therapy to outpatient geriatric populations, for which we are currently fundraising, and also examine its effectiveness for mild to moderate depressive symptoms.”

The team is also exploring the possibility of providing conversational interactions via a chatbot – an artificial intelligence-trained robot that delivers stimulating conversations as a cost-effective intervention.

“We realize that human contact is critically important for our emotional well-being, but for cognitive stimulation, chatbots could work as effectively as humans, which is something we are currently studying,” said Dodge, director of Research Analytics at the Institute. recently inaugurated the Interdisciplinary Brain Center at MGH and is a faculty member at Harvard Medical School.

Funding: Funding was provided by the National Institute on Aging.

About this news from research on cognition and aging

Author: Tracy Hampton
Source: Harvard
Contact: Tracy Hampton–Harvard
Picture: Image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Free access.
“Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial of Internet Conversational Engagement (I-CONECT) in Socially Isolated Adults 75 Years and Older with Normal Cognition or Mild Cognitive Impairment: Primary Results” by Hiroko H. Dodge et al. The gerontologist


Abstract

Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial of Internet Conversational Engagement (I-CONECT) in Socially Isolated Adults 75 Years and Older with Normal Cognition or Mild Cognitive Impairment: Initial Results

Context and objectives

Social isolation is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. We conducted a randomized controlled clinical trial (RCT) on improving social interactions, hypothesizing that conversational interactions can boost brain function in socially isolated older adults without dementia. We report initial results from this multisite RCT (Internet Conversational Engagement Clinical Trial (I-CONECT); NCT02871921).

Research design and methods

The experimental group received cognitively stimulating semi-structured conversations with trained interviewers via Internet/webcam 4 times per week for 6 months (induction) and twice per week for an additional 6 months (maintenance).

Both the experimental and control groups received weekly 10-minute telephone recordings. Changes to the protocol were necessary due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

Results

A total of 186 participants were randomized. After the induction period, the experimental group had higher overall cognitive test scores (Montreal Cognitive Assessment (primary outcome); 1.75 points (p= 0.03)) compared to the control group.

After induction, participants in the experimental group with normal cognition had higher language-based executive function (semantic mastery test (secondary outcome); 2.56 points (p= 0.03)). At the end of the maintenance period, the experimental group of subjects with mild cognitive impairment had a higher coding function (Craft Story Immediate Recall Test (secondary outcome); 2.19 points (p= 0.04)).

Measurement of emotional well-being improved in both control and experimental groups. Resting functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that the experimental group had increased connectivity within the dorsal attention network compared to the control group (p= 0.02), but the sample size was limited.

Discussion and implications

Providing stimulating and frequent conversational interactions via the Internet could be an effective dementia risk reduction strategy at home against social isolation and cognitive decline.

News Source : neurosciencenews.com
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