Can “brain training” help treat brain injuries and other brain conditions?

Local

Two years ago, Kip Mitchell was in a dark place.

“It was not a place for anyone to be,” he said. “I started doing drugs, hanging out with drug dealers. I was racing cars.”

His behavior went way beyond typical teenage angst.

“At the time I thought I was cool,” Mitchell said. “I thought it was fun. Looking back on it now, I’m lucky that I have not been arrested and that I’m not dead, because some of those things could have added up to it.”

He was diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

“ADHD typically manifests as impulsivity, so very poor decision making,” Dr. Amy Moore, Research Director at Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research, said. “Behavior problems in the teenage years can border on criminal activity, belligerence in the classrooms. There’s so many different ways that you can see behavior issues with ADHD.”

Looking for answers and solutions, Mitchell’s mother enrolled him in a cognitive training study with the Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research in Colorado Springs.

“Our goal here at Gibson Research is to create a convergence of evidence that shows that cognitive training works for all ages for all diagnostic categories,” Moore said.

Mitchell began an intensive “brain training” program that involved 90 minutes of cognitive training, three times a week.

“They spent this time doing intense mental workouts,” Moore said. “One of the tasks that we do is a memory training task where the trainer will arrange a pattern of shapes on a workboard and give the client three seconds to study it and then they have to reproduce those shapes from memory. Well, not only is that training working memory, it’s also training visual processing and processing speed as well.”

“It was very, very, hard,” Mitchell said. “It challenged me.”

Slowly, a new Kip Mitchell came to light.

“Kip emerged into this very mature, respectful young man that was nothing like the Kip that started the study,” Moore said.

Researchers discovered that what was diagnosed as ADHD was actually behavior stemming from earlier brain injury.

“Kip had repetitive brain injury from head-butting behavior as a small child and playing football,” Moore said.

“TBIs can manifest in multiple kinds of deficits, with attention being a main one of those deficits,” Dr. Christina Ledbetter, a clinical neuroscientist who worked on the study, said. “It’s not at all uncommon to see individuals who’ve had a TBI to have significant attention issues, and in that sense they could end up with the designation of ADHD.”

Mitchell was diagnosed with a mild TBI.

“I never knew that I had a TBI,” Mitchell said. “But it makes sense with things that were going on.”

Researchers looked at Mitchell’s brain and the others in the study using MRI neuroimaging.

“This study was a a collaborative effort among multiple organizations and multi-disciplinary fields,” Moore said. “So we have researchers from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, medicine and education all working together, and representatives from LSU, from the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, from True Life Medicine in Woodland Park and Penrad Imaging, who allowed us to capture our neuroimaging data on their state-of-the-art equipment.”

Researchers discovered that with brain training, brain function visibly improved.

“We saw increased connectivity with language areas of the brain,” Ledbetter said.

Participant IQ scores also increased post-training.

“My IQ score was 114 and now it’s 132,” Mitchell said.

But there was something even more exciting researchers reported.

“Probably the most exciting thing is to see the behavioral changes that these subjects report to have,” Ledbetter said. “Those real-life changes that then go on and they’re manifesting in school, in their social life, their personal life, their home life. So to me that’s kind of like our gold standard and the most exciting to see.”

The changes in Mitchell’s behavior were enough that he lost his ADHD designation.

“Basically if Kip were to come and enroll in our study today, he would not score the same on diagnostic tools for ADHD that he did when he started the study,” Moore said. “So if he were to be evaluated now, he would not meet the criteria for ADHD. His symptoms don’t show ADHD symptoms anymore.”

Mitchell said the brain training certainly had an impact on his life.

“I started to notice that I was acting better,” Mitchell said. “I was doing my schoolwork a lot better. I got a job, actually.”

But he said ultimately he had to make the choice to turn his life around.

“You have to make that decision inside yourself and you’re going to have to give up some things, maybe some friends, maybe attention, maybe relationships.” Mitchell said. “You’re going to have to sacrifice those things to build up a better future for yourself and become a better person.”

These case studies are ongoing, and researchers are continuing to look into the impacts cognitive training can have on a variety of diagnoses. But the same training that was used in the study is currently available to anyone at cognitive centers like LearningRx.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.