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CONTRARY to previous thinking, researchers have found that cognitive function in people with Down’s syndrome can be improved.

A team of scientists at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, say that planning and organisational skills, short-term memory, attention, and concentration can all be improved using a special course of brain training.

Historically, it’s been thought that people with Down Syndrome could not improve in cognitive function because of the genetic nature of the condition.

This new study suggests the contrary, underscoring that the cognitive abilities of people with genetic conditions need not be viewed as unalterable.

Dr Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, the maker of BrainHQ, said: “Because Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder, people have thought that the brain function and cognitive abilities of people with Down Syndrome could not be changed.

“These exciting results suggest that’s not true. We hope these initial results spur further research, including randomised controlled trials, with this important group of people.”

Researchers found a 10-week combined protocol of physical exercises and computerised brain training led to a reorganization of the brain and to improved performance on both cognitive and physical measures. The cognitive training used in the study was the Greek version of the commercially-available BrainHQ brain app from Posit Science.

The team took physical, cognitive, and resting-state EEG assessments of 12 adults with Down Syndrome before and after a 10-week course of combined physical and cognitive training.

The physical training consisted of aerobic, flexibility, strength, and balance exercises.

The cognitive training was via BrainHQ, consisting of 29 visual and auditory exercises targeting memory, attention, processing speed, problem-solving, navigation, and social skills.

The researchers had hypothesised that the training would trigger the brain’s neuroplasticity – its ability to change chemically, structurally, and functionally.

Their results showed increased connectivity within the left hemisphere and from left to right hemisphere, as well as improved performance on physical and cognitive assessments.

Physical improvements were reported in upper body strength and endurance (arm curl), and in mobility, and static and dynamic balance. There were also gains in general cognitive capacity.

The researchers’ report said: ‘Our results reveal a strong adaptive neuroplastic reorganisation, as a result of the training that leads to a more complex and less-random network, with a more pronounced hierarchical organisation.

“Our findings underline the ability of the Down’s syndrome brain to respond to the cognitive demands of external stimuli, reflecting the possibility of developing independent-living skills.”