Misericordia University researchers published in American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias

DALLAS, Pa. – Misericordia University student and faculty researchers recently had their international collaborative study, “Computer-Based Cognitive Training for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Pilot Study,” published by the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias. The study was included in the e-version of the journal in June and will be included in the print version in December.

The groundbreaking study was done to determine if people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD) can interface successfully with a web-based brain fitness software program and show cognitive improvement.

The study showed, with proper support and supervision, adults with ID/DD could complete the computer-based activities, and a clear trend of cognitive improvement was observed by the subjects who participated in the “memory fitness center.”

“As our society continues to age, more and more people are at risk for a decline in their cognitive abilities,” said James Siberski, Misericordia University researcher, assistant professor and coordinator of gerontology education. “In order to protect their cognitive abilities, people are encouraged to eat right, exercise their bodies and brains, and prevent head injuries. On the other hand, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities are at even more risk because they are not provided the same aging information or opportunities to exercise their minds.”

The research featured 33 volunteers participating in a 10-week study. It was designed to test CogniFit, an Israeli-developed, web-based computer software that offers personalized brain fitness programs, in order to see if the volunteer test subjects’ cognitive abilities showed any measureable improvement. Positive results could have long-term benefits for this underserved population – an estimated 4.3 million people in the United States – because there are currently no non-pharmacological cognitive interventions or health promotion programs available to them.

The individualized programs provided puzzles and games that were tailored to exercise the mind. The investigation required each test subject to undergo an assessment utilizing the IQ test, which was administered by Phil Rouse, a clinical psychologist, before the research study.

They also were given pre- and post-test evaluations utilizing the CofniFit program’s evaluation tools.

The researchers have more than 30 years of experience in the fields of mental health and gerontology.

Siberski, Evelyn Shatil, chief scientist, CogniFit, Hafia, Israel; Carol Siberski, Margie Eckroth-Bucher, associate professor and psychiatric clinical nurse specialist at Bloomsburg University, were the co-investigators. They were supported in writing the research paper by Misericordia University student co-investigators Aubrey French ’10, psychology; and Sara Horton ’10, social work; and Rachel Frier Loefflad ’12, geriatric care manager, and Rouse.

Together, they implemented an experimental design to test the hypothesis that people involved in a structured, cognitive-stimulation intervention three times per week for eight weeks will show improvement in baseline IQ scores in various cognitive domains assessed by CogniFit when compared to people in the control group.

Even though CogniFit is not designed to interface with clients who have ID/DD, researchers found that they can work successfully with the program. “Actually, the subjects in our study required less and less supervision each week,” said Siberski. “The preliminary results also suggest that there was cognitive improvement in several cognitive domains, such as their attention span or auditory discrimination.”

Today, about 75 percent of adults who have an intellectual disability are between the ages of 40 to 60 years old.

Over the next 20 years, the 60-plus age group is expected to increase threefold, creating a critical need to either find a solution to care for them or to discover a way to make them more independent.

About 61 percent of people with ID/DD live with a family caregiver, according to data. The same data show that 10 percent live in a supervised residential setting; 14 percent live on their own, and 15 percent live with a spouse.

“The data and our aging population support the need for our health care communities to discover a means to improve this population’s cognitive abilities,” Siberski added. “So they can be more independent and enjoy life to the fullest extent possible.”

For more information about Misericordia University, visit www.misericordia.edu or call 570-674-6400.