New research looks at the connection between movement and memory

Does exercise lead to better brain health? Or is it the other way around? A first of its kind study aimed to answer those questions.

73-year-old Marlene Ray knows all too well that aging is tough on the body and the mind.

"My sister-in-law suffers with dementia, so I want to know what I can do to help anybody I can while my mind is still sharp," Ray said.

Ray is one of more than 400 seniors being recruited by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine for C-REM, the Cognitive Remediation to Improve Mobility study.

"It's based on the idea that to walk in the real world you need to engage your brain," Joe Verghese, Director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for the Aging Brain, said about the rationale behind the research.

Three days a week, for 45 minutes, half of the seniors in the study played computerized brain games that target the areas of the brain important to mobility and executive function, the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia and the connections between.

Participants then performed timed walking and cognition tests, seeing how long it takes to walk a runway, while reciting alternate letters of the alphabet, or find a way out of a floor maze, while keeping one foot on a yellow guideline.

Ray, who performs in church choir, saw a big improvement in her movement and memory since beginning the program.

"I did a show in December with my choir, and I had to remember 12 songs," Ray said.

"We hope to see at the end of the trial we've reduced the amount of effort the brain has to do while walking, in other words, making the brain more efficient," Verghese said.

As part of the study, scientists are also using specialized scanners to measure brain activity.

An earlier small pilot program showed participants who played the brain games improved their walking. This large randomized trial is expected to run through 2020.
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