Three out of four breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy experience a decline in cognition. Thirty-five percent of those patients continue to experience cognitive dysfunction after chemotherapy ends. A recently published research paper demonstrates that playing a video game designed to enhance cognition could also relieve cognitive symptoms in breast cancer patients.

Cognitive dysfunction related to cancer treatment is characterized by a mild to moderate decrease in the ability to remember, concentrate, complete tasks, or learn new skills. Such symptoms — sometimes called “chemobrain” — can impact work or school performance, social interaction, mental health, and overall quality of life. The new paper contains the findings of a clinical trial conducted in Belgium at the University of Antwerp in partnership with the British company MyCognition. MyCognition makes AutoSnap, a consumer cognitive training app, as well as other similar products.

The study involved thirty-two breast cancer patients between the ages of 18 and 71 with no previous history of cognitive decline. Two separate groups played AutoSnap three times a week for either three or six months. Although the study was small, researchers found that a statistically significant number of participants in both groups showed improved cognitive test results. This comprehensive test evaluates memory, processing speed, executive function, and attention. Subjects in the study also reported improvements in anxiety levels, sleep, perception of their own mental and cognitive health, and overall quality of life.

However, a decrease in self-reflection, i.e., the ability to examine one’s own thoughts and beliefs, also had statistical significance. Experts consider self-reflection a critical component of both learning capacity and communication.

The paper makes a solid case for further studies regarding the use of gamification techniques for the specific treatment of chemotherapy-related cognitive dysfunction. MyCognition currently has another clinical trial underway to determine whether AutoSnap could improve cognition — and thus emotional health — in patients with long-term conditions like diabetes, heart failure, and Parkinson’s disease. Relieving anxiety and depression has been shown to have a positive effect on physical health, especially in patients with chronic illnesses.