A new study has shown that simple brain-training exercises performed at home reduce the emotional vulnerability of female breast cancer survivors.
Birkbeck scientists at the University of London said their findings may have great implications for other people suffering from chronic diseases and cancers that affect cognitive function and emotional well-being.
Advances in medical care mean that breast cancer survival in the UK has doubled in the past 40 years, with 78% of women surviving 1
But the psychological cost of the disease and the physical and mental effects of surgery, chemo and radiation therapy can have a lasting effect.
Many women suffer from post-traumatic symptoms Stress, anxiety and post-treatment depression and fear of cancer recurrence can have a major impact.
The Birkbeck Study, published in the journal Psycho-On This study examined how cognitive training could help women in this way.
It compared anxiety and depressive symptoms in two groups of women who had undergone breast cancer treatment after performing various types of cognitive training over 12 days.
Both groups undertook simple training tasks known as adaptive dual N-back training in which they simultaneously had to memorize and identify a series of spoken letters and a sequence of positions of a square when a letter or position coincided ( 19659002) For the first, experimental group, the task became more challenging and difficult as their competence increased, but for the second, control group, who had trained on the same task, the difficulty level remained the same throughout the group
The anxious / depressive symptoms The groups were then examined three times to assess their emotional vulnerability.
This happened immediately after training, then at one month, and finally at 15 to 18 months to evaluate long-term efficacy.
The study showed a significant 16% reduction in anxiety and distress-related symptoms in the experimental group compared to control
These reductions were sustained after one month and until final assessment.
Similarly, the training reduced "rumination" by 14% compared to the control group – a causal factor in depression with a tendency
The study was led by Nazanin Derakhshan, a professor of experimental psychopathology who said "Recent advances in cognitive and affective neuroscience show that by building new neural connections in the brain we can pave the way to resilience and cognitive flexibility and improve neural efficiency."
"We have previously had an impairment of attention control and cognitive flexibility as the cause of anxiety and depression. By strengthening these neurological functions we can reduce these negative symptoms.
"Training-related gains in the experimental group resulted in a reduction of emotional vulnerability to cognitive tasks, but on the other hand, the control group, which remained at a" practical level ", did not show this reduction in emotional vulnerability. "
Jessica Swainston, Professor Derakhshan's doctoral student who conducted the study, said," This research has great implications for not only improving cognitive flexibility in breast cancer, but also other chronic diseases and cancers that affect cognitive function and emotional well-being.
"The training has further potential to increase the effectiveness of other available therapies such as CBT and mindfulness by improving attention
" We are currently conducting two more studies in which we review the combined effects of N-back training studied with mindfulness and expressive writing to see if these treatments improve in addition to cognitive training. "