Brain game can predict how bad your next cold will be : ScienceAlert

Daily brain tests can reveal how prepared your immune system is to deal with a future viral infection.

A study led by researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) has shown that poor immune system tend to go hand in hand with periods of fluctuating cognitive performance.

For the first few days of the eight-day study, three times a day, 18 the participants tested attention, reaction time and ability to switch between numbers and symbols. On the fourth day of the study, the group was purposefully exposed to human rhinovirus (HRV), commonly responsible for the common cold.

During the remaining days, a nasal rinse was self-administered by the participants to measure the presence and volume of secreting virus cells.

Volunteers were also asked to rate their experience of eight symptoms, including chills, cough, headache, nasal obstruction, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and fatigue.

Ultimately, those who lost the most virus and had the worst symptoms tended to show inconsistent cognitive scores in the days before they got sick.

“Initially, we did not find that cognitive function had a significant association with susceptibility to disease because we used the raw scores,” says bioinformatics researcher Yaya Zhai at UM.

“But later, when we looked at change over time, we found that variation in cognitive function is closely related to immunity and susceptibility.”

In other words, a single one-time test is probably not enough to determine the state of a person’s immune system. However, a trend in cognitive performance measured over days may be the ticket.

The authors of the study acknowledge that most people are unlikely to take a cognitive test three times a day for the rest of their lives. But their results still showed strength even when only five tests were accounted for as long as they started three days before infection and at least one test was taken a day.

In the real world, a person does not know when they will next be exposed to a virus. That means that for brain tests to predict future immune responses, they probably need to be taken semi-regularly. How regularly remains to be determined.

The current study is small and only suggests a possible link between cognitive function and a healthy immune system. Further research among larger cohorts is needed to verify the results.

In the past, researchers investigating brain function and health have relied on raw cognitive scores. But new research suggests that ups and downs in brain tests contain more information than any test alone.

An impressive 19-year-long study found, for example, that when a person’s reaction times show higher variability on tests, that person has a greater risk of falls, neurodegenerative disorders and death.

The authors of the current study hope that one day brain tests can be easily accessed and tracked by the public using their own smartphones.

Information about a person’s typing speed, writing accuracy and sleep time, for example, can be combined with tests of attention and memory to better predict when they are at increased risk of serious illness.

Precautions can then be taken to reduce their exposure, or ensure the body’s defences.

“Traditional clinical cognitive assessments that look at raw scores at a single point in time often do not provide a true picture of brain health,” explains neuroscientist P. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University.

“Periodic cognitive monitoring at home, through self-testing digital platforms, is the future of brain health assessment.”

The study was published in Scientific reports.

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