Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Game Yourself Bright

Over the years I've had a lot of questions about recovery of cognitive function. And it's difficult question because it's not my area. Or is it?

My Dad. Super smart.
(I was adopted.)

The word cognitive is quite broad. According to our smart uncle Wikipedia the word cognitive refers to the brain's ability to do any of the following:

Memory, association, concept formation, language, attention, perception, action, problem solving and mental imagery.

As you can see, many of those terms can relate to movement. In fact, motor learning (the learning of new physical movement, or relearning in the case of stroke survivors) is like any other cognitive function. Whether you're learning how to move better or learning mathematics or French or whatever, the processes are similar. Both involve physical change within the brain. Both happen in the 1 to 3 mm cortex of the brain, and both involve repetitive challenging practice. There is no separation between "cognitive" and "motor learning."

I think what most people are talking about when they talk about cognitive function is the ability to think clearly. What is it that they say about intelligence? It's is the ability to keep two thoughts in your head at the same time- something like that. I think a lot of stroke survivors lament the loss of part of their ability to think. Unfortunately, many people assume that stroke survivors necessarily have lost mental capacity. But, of course, many have not. I can't tell you how many people I know that have had a stroke and they're still smarter than me. "Unfair!" I might yelp if I was petty, which I'm not. (Unfair!)

So what can one do to develop an increase in, let's call it, "intellectual capacity"?
It may very well be video gaming. There are many in physical rehabilitation who love the idea of using the Wii for physical rehab. They call it Wiihabilitation, because, cute. There's actually some serious questions about whether these games actually help physical recovery. But can gaming help you remember where you put your keys? Can it help you "keep two thoughts in your head at the same time"? It turns out it can. This has implications for parents worldwide (whew!). It has indications for stroke survivors as well.

NOTE: My perspective on this has evolved. Gaming may not be the best way to boost cognition.


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