Health Beat: Cognitive rehab: Train your brain

Health Beat: Cognitive rehab: Train your brain

ATLANTA - Mild cognitive impairment happens when a person has memory problems but can still function well in everyday life. Now, there's good news. Doctors say a form of rehab can help these patients train their brains.

Remembering faces, names, where you put your keys are all struggles for people with mild cognitive impairment.

A study being conducted at Emory University in Atlanta is attempting to improve memory through cognitive rehabilitation. 

In one exercise, a therapist asks a series of questions to help the patient learn where an object is placed.  The idea is that the patient comes up with a reason that will help them remember the location. Other exercises focus on matching a facial feature with a person's name.

"You can do the bushy facial hair, and 'Bushy Ben,' would be an example of that," said Dr. Benjamin M. Hampstead, research clinical neuropsychologist at Emory University.

For one study, patients received three training sessions and had two MRI scans, one before the training and one after.  The MRIs after the cognitive rehab showed certain areas of the brain were much more active.

"So their brains remain plastic. They're capable of learning these new techniques," Hampstead said.

Up to 20 percent of people age 65 and up have mild cognitive impairment. Between one-third and two-thirds of them will go on to develop dementia or Alzheimer's, but Hampstead said starting therapy earlier can make a difference.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to prolong their functioning for as long as possible," Hampstead said.

Some patients with mild cognitive impairment will improve to normal, said Hampstead, adding that some factors like emotional distress may play a role in memory decline.

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