University of Florida researchers have received a five-year, $5.7 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to study whether cognitive training paired with electrical stimulation to the brain can improve cognitive functioning in older adults.
Led by principal investigators Drs. Adam Woods and Ronald Cohen of the UF College of Medicine, along with Dr. Michael Marsiske, an associate professor in the department of clinical and health psychology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, the project is a multi-site collaboration among three McKnight Brain Institutes, located at the universities of Arizona, Florida and Miami.
The Augmenting Clinical Training in Older Adults, or ACT, study will evaluate the effects of combining computer-based cognitive training programs with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which delivers a weak electrical current via electrodes placed on the scalp. The researchers will focus on how the intervention impacts participants’ executive functioning, with a particular focus on useful field of view and working memory, Dr. Marsiske said.
“We’re focused on increasing the amount of visual information people can take in at a glance, and also improving their ability to mentally manage multiple tasks at once, for example, holding information in mind, while also keeping track of constantly changing information,” Dr. Marsiske said. “We think these tasks are important for managing demanding and time sensitive tasks of daily living, and we will be assessing whether training affects functional outcomes as well.”
Researchers will conduct the clinical trial at UF, the University of Arizona and the University of Miami. Participants will be 360 older adults who have some evidence of cognitive decline, but who have not been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.
Multiple collaborators came together to shape the study: Dr. Woods is an emerging national leader in brain stimulation, Dr. Cohen provides recognized expertise in neuroscience and brain imaging, and the study builds on findings of the Advanced Cognitive Training in Independent and Vital Elderly, or ACTIVE, study. Dr. Marsiske and fellow ACTIVE investigators demonstrated that participants who received five to 13 weeks of training in memory, reasoning, or speed of processing continued to show benefits 10 years after the training. The new ACT study uses some of the same cognitive training as the ACTIVE study and will evaluate whether the addition of tDCS stimulation, which has shown promise for enhancing cognitive function, can strengthen the results of the training.
“Another key innovation of the study is imaging,” Dr. Marsiske said. “My colleagues have incorporated some of the most extensive measures possible to assess how training might alter patterns of brain activation, response to cognitive stimuli, and even neurotransmitter functioning, giving us a deeper understanding of how the brain responds to training and stimulation.”