Effects of Home-Based Working Memory Training on Visuo-Spatial Working Memory in Parkinson's Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial

J Cent Nerv Syst Dis. 2020 Jan 16;12:1179573519899469. doi: 10.1177/1179573519899469. eCollection 2020.


Background: Cognitive impairment is a very frequent and severe nonmotor symptom of Parkinson's disease (PD). Early intervention in this at-risk group for cognitive decline may be crucial for long-term preservation of cognitive functions. Computerized working memory training (WMT) has been proven beneficial in non-PD patient populations, but such evidence is still needed for patients with PD.

Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the effect of WMT on visuo-spatial working memory (WM) in cognitively unimpaired patients with PD.

Methods: A single-blind randomized controlled trial encompassing 76 patients with PD but no cognitive impairment according to level II diagnostic criteria was conducted. Thirty-seven patients engaged in home-based adaptive WMT 5 times per week for a period of 5 weeks, whereas the remaining patients were in the waiting list arm of the study (control group [CG]). Working memory performance was evaluated using a computerized task before and after intervention and at 14-week follow-up, allowing to quantify the precision of WM on a continuous scale, ie, to test not only if an item was remembered but also how well the location of this item was retained.

Results: Coincidently, the WMT group showed slightly worse WM performance compared with the CG at baseline, which was ameliorated after WMT. This training-induced effect remained stable until follow-up.

Conclusion: Patients showing relatively low WM performance, despite not formally diagnosable as Parkinson's disease with mild cognitive impairment (PD-MCI), seem to benefit from home-based WMT. Thus, WMT could potentially be implemented in future trials as a time- and cost-efficient route to counteract subtle cognitive changes in early disease stages.

Trial registration: German Clinical Trial Register (drks.de, DRKS00009379).

Keywords: Idiopathic Parkinson’s disease; executive function; nonpharmacologic intervention; randomized controlled trial; working memory; working memory training.