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Nursing researcher to examine if brain training helps combat memory loss in heart failure patients



INDIANAPOLIS — The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $2.5 million grant to an IU School of Nursing researcher for a study that will examine whether computerized cognitive training exercises can improve memory and quality of life for heart failure patients. Heart failure is a prevalent condition, affecting 5.1 million Americans, and is associated with increased mortality and hospitalizations and poor quality of life.

Susan Pressler, the Sally Reahard Endowed Chair, Science of Nursing Care and director of the Center for Enhancing Quality of Life in Chronic Illness at the Indiana University School of Nursing, is the principal investigator for the five-year project.   

Also participating in the study are Dr. Irmina Gradus-Pizlo, cardiologist and heart failure specialist, IU School of Medicine; Sujuan Gao, biostatistician, IU School of Medicine; Bruno Giordani, neuropsychologist, University of Michigan; Marita Titler, professor of nursing, University of Michigan; and Dean Smith, health economist, Louisiana State University.

The study will build on an earlier one in which Pressler led a team of interdisciplinary colleagues from the IU schools of nursing and medicine that found 23 percent of people with heart failure had memory loss and that this memory loss was an independent predictor of 12-month all-cause mortality. 

The findings left researchers with the question “What do we do for an intervention?” Pressler said. In the earlier study, the patients were already receiving very good medical care and appropriate therapies.

The new study, which will divide 264 people with chronic heart failure into three groups, may provide answers to that question.

The efficacy of computerized cognitive training using BrainHQ programs by Posit Science will be tested with one group. BrainHQ is a group of exercises developed by neuroscientists to strengthen components of memory. Researchers will also study the impact of BrainHQ exercises on working memory, instrumental activities of daily living and health-related quality of life among heart failure patients.

Earlier small studies conducted by Pressler and colleagues utilizing BrainHQ have shown promising results, Pressler said.

The researchers will test the impact of computerized crossword puzzles with a second group, while the third group will receive usual care.

“Improving the ability of heart failure patients with memory loss to remember recent events is critical,” Pressler said. “The average heart failure patient takes eight to 10 medications daily and needs to follow a low-sodium diet. Trying to do that without good memory is really difficult.”

The study will provide new knowledge about whether using BrainHQ will improve memory, Pressler said: “If so, it would be a new therapeutic approach that is easy to disseminate to treat memory loss in patients with heart failure.”