Targeting Memory and Learning Deficits in MS Through Combined Cognitive Rehabilitation and Exercise With Virtual Reality: Carly Wender, PhD


The research scientist at Kessler Foundation discussed a recently funded study focused on improving memory and learning deficits in patients with multiple sclerosis by combining a cognitive rehabilitation program with a cycling initiative enriched with virtual reality elements. [WATCH TIME: 7 minutes]

WATCH TIME: 7 minutes

"Adding these visual stimuli through the virtual reality, we're challenging the brain while you're exercising and our hypothesis is that that will lead to bigger improvements and better results."

Early research conducted by experts at Kessler Foundation has provided evidence for benefits of either cognitive rehabilitation or exercise on learning and memory in persons with multiple sclerosis (MS). While each of these individual approaches appear to be somewhat beneficial, it is possible that combining both interventions will lead to greater cognitive benefits than either alone.

Kessler Foundation’s previous research specifically supports cognitive benefits of walking-based aerobic exercise training, likely due to the high level of multisensory processing required during such a complex behavior. However, walking-based exercise may not be safe and accessible for persons with greater disease progression who have mobility disability. Therefore, the newly funded study aims to increase the multisensory demand of a safe exercise modality (i.e., cycling) by adding virtual reality (VR) to the training.

Carly Wender, PhD, a research scientist in the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation recently received a $725,499 grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to assess the impact of combining cognitive rehabilitation with exercise on learning and memory in patients with MS and mobility disability.1 In this study, Wender and colleagues will compare the effects of combined cognitive rehabilitation and aerobic cycling that incorporates VR with combined cognitive rehabilitation and a stretching and toning program.

Wender recently sat down in an interview with NeurologyLive® to discuss the unique aspects of the exercise program and the expected benefits for individuals with mobility disability. In addition, she spoke about the ways research has explored the potential of VR not only in enhancing cognitive functions but also in managing exercise-induced pain.

1. Kessler Foundation Receives $725,000 Grant for Study to Accelerate Functional Recovery in Multiple Sclerosis. News Release. Kessler Foundation. Published September 12, 2023. Accessed February 8, 2024.
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