At the Brain Game Center, we have multiple projects focused on training perceptual function. These studies mostly address how we can improve vision and hearing abilities. Studies include those targeting vision loss related to macular degeneration, or more broadly age-related complaints with hearing or vision. While our software cannot replace glasses or hearing aids, they do address how the brain can be trained to better process sensory information from the eyes and ears.

Mediators and Moderators of Perceptual Learning

This project, R01EY031226 funded by the National Eye Institute, seeks to train over 2,000 participants in different variants of visual perceptual learning. Perceptual learning (PL) broadly encompasses the set of mechanisms through which experience with the environment gives rise to changes in perceptual processing. Careful research in this domain can greatly enhance our basic understanding of the perceptual systems and the plasticity of these systems. Furthermore, emerging translational approaches for the rehabilitation of both perceptual deficits and for cognitive training are believed to share cortical plasticity mechanisms. However, while existing research provides evidence perceptual skills can be improved, our ability to develop effective interventions is limited by a lack of understanding of the behavioral outcomes associated with different PL approaches. Here, we overcome these limitations by comparing a large number of different training tasks using common outcome measures and in a large subject population. The outcome of the proposed research will be of tremendous value to both basic understanding of PL as well as how to translate PL to help those with visual needs.

Mediators and Moderators of Auditory Training

This project, R01AG077725 funded by the National Institute of Aging, seeks to train over 1,000 participants in different variants of auditory perceptual learning with a focus on the potential of auditory training to mitigate hearing issues that promote risk of development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). Reports from the Lancet Commission, and others, show midlife hearing loss is one of the greatest predictors of late-life dementia, and hearing aids protect against development of ADRD. While this has promoted a push for greater distribution of hearing aids, other research suggests that central hearing processes may be greater predictors of onset of ADRD than peripheral hearing (as addressed through hearing aids). The overarching goal of this proposal is that better understanding of mechanisms of auditory training, with focus on speech in noisy environments, can address the most prevalent hearing complaints reported by people as they age, and in turn mitigate transition to ADRD.

Following the Sound of Music

This project, R61AG073668 funded by the National Institute of Aging, seeks to test the benefits of a music-based intervention on speech-in-competition abilities in older adults. Age-related hearing difficulties are prevalent, with speech-in-competition difficulties being a common challenge amongst older adults. Critically, these difficulties and frustrations often lead to social isolation and decreased cognitive engagement, and they are associated with an increased risk of developing ADRD. There is evidence suggesting that musical training is associated with cognitive advantages in older adults, including preserved ability for speech-in-competition. However, to date, there is extremely limited knowledge and lack of experimental evidence explaining how music might benefit speech-in-competition abilities, along with more basic auditory processes and/or cognitive functions. We aim to contribute to uncovering the underlying mechanisms driving the potential effects of music and attention through an innovative, attention-based music listening intervention that cultivates auditory and attentional skills akin to those developed during formal instrumental training.

Training and Brain Plasticity in Central Vision Loss

In two projects, R01EY031226 and R21EY033623 funded by the National Eye Institute, we seek to understand brain plasticity after central vision loss. For example, in the case of macular degeneration (MD), one of the most common causes of vision loss (projected to affect almost 200 million people worldwide by 2020), damage to photoreceptors in the macula leads to central vision loss. Central vision loss has detrimental impact on daily tasks including reading, navigating, and recognizing faces. In these two projects, we seek to understand potential benefits of a variety of training procedures aimed to improve vision after central vision loss, examining both changes in behavior and brain processes. We simulate central vision loss with eye-tracking techniques for  both “normally” seeing individuals and patients with macular degeneration.

Visual Remediation for Schizophrenia

This project, R61MH115119 funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, examines the relative effectiveness of novel visual remediation approaches to schizophrenia that focus on the low-level mechanism of contrast sensitivity and the mid-level mechanism of contour integration. It has become increasingly clear that people with schizophrenia not only have cognitive deficits, but also have a range of visual perception problems. These include impairment in both low-level visual processes (e.g., seeing dim objects or recognizing fine details of objects) and mid-level visual processes such as integrating individual parts of objects into wholes. This project involves a randomized controlled clinical trial of vision training in schizophrenia patients to understand the potential benefits of vision training to improve these visual functions.

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