Promoting neuroplasticity and neuropsychological functioning in frailty through an app-based sensorimotor training: study protocol for a randomized trial

BMC Geriatr. 2021 Jun 3;21(1):343. doi: 10.1186/s12877-021-02293-9.

ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND: Frailty is characterized by an age-related decline in multiple physiological systems, leading to a high vulnerability to stressors, adverse health outcomes, and low quality of life. Neuroscientific models of pathological aging emphasize the loss of sensorimotor stimulation and reduced neuromodulatory capacities as core processes in age-related cognitive and bodily decline, which may be associated with maladaptive plastic changes in the brain. We plan to increase sensorimotor stimulation in frail persons through a newly developed app-based training program and link the training trials to biological and psychological correlates of age-associated vulnerability and health indices.

METHODS: We will conduct a randomized trial, applying an app-based sensorimotor home training (N = 30) in people suffering from frailty. An app-based relaxation training will serve as an active control condition (N = 30). Both interventions will last for 90 days each. The sensorimotor training includes unimodal and multimodal sensory discrimination tasks in the visual, auditory, and tactile domain, as well as sensorimotor precision tasks. The tasks will be implemented using an adaptive training algorithm and enriched with motivational components embedded in a virtual training environment. We expect a pre-post reduction of frailty status and associated functional decline related to refinement of representational maps within the sensorimotor system and improved sensorimotor function such as extremity function. Secondary analyses will study the influence of BDNF genotype as moderating variable. Additional outcomes will include measures of perceptual and cognitive functioning, quality of life as well as BDNF serum levels. Measurements will take place before training (baseline), after 60 days (assessment 1), and at the end of the training after 90 days (assessment 2).

DISCUSSION: In our randomized trial, we aim to characterize a multidimensional concept of frailty and to target maladaptive behaviors and neuroplasticity using an app-based sensorimotor training. This type of intervention might provide further knowledge and new possibilities for preventing decline and preserving function in older adults.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03666039 . Registered 11 September 2018 – Retrospectively registered. Protocol version: Version 4 revised (issue date: 19 May 2021).

PMID:34082710 | PMC:PMC8173957 | DOI:10.1186/s12877-021-02293-9

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