Brain Games Can Predict How Bad Your Next Cold Will Be: ScienceAlert

Brain Games Can Predict How Bad Your Next Cold Will Be: ScienceAlert

Daily brain tests could reveal how prepared your immune system is for a future viral infection.

This has been shown by a study led by researchers from the University of Michigan (UM). poor immune performance tends to be associated with periods of fluctuating cognitive performance.

In the first days of the eight-day study three times a day, 18 Participants tested their attentiveness, reaction time, and ability to switch between numbers and symbols. On day four of the study, the group was intentionally exposed to human rhinovirus (HRV), which is typically responsible for the common cold.

On the remaining days, participants self-administered nasal irrigation to measure the presence and amount of virus cells shed.

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

Finally, those who shed the most viruses and had the worst symptoms tended to have inconsistent cognitive scores in the days leading up to their illness.

“Initially, because we used the raw scores, we didn’t find a significant association between cognitive function and disease susceptibility,” says UM bioinformatics researcher Yaya Zhai.

“But later, when we looked at the changes over time, we found that variation in cognitive function was 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 could 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 considered as long as they started three days before infection and at least one test per day was done.

In the real world, a person doesn’t know when they will next be exposed to a virus. That means brain testing to predict future immune responses will likely need to be done semi-regularly. How regular remains to be seen.

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

Historically, scientists studying brain function and health have relied on crude cognitive scores. However, new research suggests that the highs and lows of brain tests contain more information than any individual test.

For example, an impressive 19-year study found that when a person’s reaction times to tests show greater variability, that person is at greater risk of falls, neurodegenerative disease 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.

For example, information about a person’s typing speed, typing accuracy, and sleep duration could be combined with tests of attention and memory to better predict when they are at increased risk of serious illness.

Precautions could then be taken to reduce their exposure or boost their body’s defenses.

“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 Duke University neuroscientist P. Murali Doraiswamy.

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

The study was published in Scientific Reports.

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