West Orange, NJ. December 6, 2012. The National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society awarded Victoria Leavitt, Ph.D., a $44,000 grant to study the effects of intellectual enrichment on cognitive decline in individual with multiple sclerosis. Participants in Dr. Leavitt's study will use iPads to engage in home-based activities such as reading, puzzle solving, and games for 12 weeks. Dr. Leavitt, a scientist in Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation, will correlate improvements in cognition with changes in neural network activity on fMRI. This one-year pilot project is titled, A Randomized Controlled Trial of Intellectual Enrichment to Build Cognitive Reserve in Multiple Sclerosis (NMSS grant # PP1854)
"This exciting study extends our innovative research of the cognitive effects of MS," said John DeLuca, PhD, VP of Research & Training. Prior work done at Kessler Foundation by Dr. James Sumowski showed for the first time the protective effect of cognitive reserve in people with MS. Dr. Sumowski, a research scientist in Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, found that individuals with MS who have a history of a mentally enriching lifestyle are better protected against cognitive decline (Neurology. 2010 June 15; 74(24): 1942). That cognitive reserve is an independent protective factor helps explain the lack of correlation between degree of brain atrophy and cognitive function.
That finding prompted Dr. Leavitt to investigate whether ongoing intellectual enrichment can boost cognitive reserve in people with MS. "Most of our cognitive reserve is developed early in life, during formal school years," explained Leavitt. "I am interested in whether adults with MS can build their reserve by engaging in intellectually stimulating activities, and whether that increase in reserve will protect against further cognitive decline. Moreover, if patients can achieve this using handheld devices like the iPad, this has the potential to change how we administer cognitive therapy. "
The pilot study will examine improvements in cognitive performance and correlations with changes in neural networks on fMRI. Rehabilitation interventions that strengthen neural networking in the brain are important in MS. "We believe that the brain may compensate for damage in one area by re-routing via other neural connections," noted Dr. Leavitt. "We expect that increasing cognitive reserve through intellectual enrichment will result in more efficient use of neural networks in individuals with MS."
Drs. Leavitt and Sumowski work closely with Dr. DeLuca and Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of Neuropsychology, Neuroscience & TBI Research at Kessler Foundation. Drs. Leavitt, Sumowski, DeLuca and Chiaravalloti have faculty appointments in the department of physical medicine & rehabilitation at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School.
Recent articles by Dr. Leavitt:
Leavitt VM et al. Increased functional connectivity within memory networks following memory rehabilitation in multiple sclerosis. Brain Imaging Behav. 2012 Jun 16. [Epub ahead of print]
Leavitt VM et al. Altered effective connectivity during performance of an information processing speed task in multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler. 2012 Apr;18(4):409-17.
About MS Research at Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation's cognitive rehabilitation research in MS is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National MS Society and Kessler Foundation. Scientists in Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation have made important contributions to knowledge of cognitive decline in MS. Clinical studies span new learning, memory, executive function, attention and processing speed. Research tools include innovative applications of fMRI and virtual reality. Among recent findings are the benefits of cognitive reserve; correlation between cognitive performance and outdoor temperatures; the efficacy of short-term cognitive rehabilitation using modified story technique; and the correlation between memory improvement and cerebral activation on fMRI.
About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a large public charity in the field of disability, conducts rehabilitation research in mobility and cognition that advances the care of people with multiple sclerosis, brain injury, stroke and spinal cord injury. Kessler Foundation is one of eight centers in the U.S. to have NIDRR-funded model systems for both traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. Kessler Foundation Program Center fosters new approaches to the persistently high rates of unemployment among people disabled by injury or disease. Targeted grant making funds promising programs across the nation.
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