Immediate neuropsychological and behavioral benefits of computerized cognitive rehabilitation in Ugandan pediatric cerebral malaria survivors

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Our earlier studies on Ugandan children surviving cerebral malaria showed cognitive deficits mainly in attention and memory. We now present the first study in sub-Saharan Africa to investigate the feasibility and potential benefits of computerized cognitive rehabilitation training on neuropsychological and behavioural functioning of children surviving cerebral malaria.

A randomized trial in which 65 children admitted 45 months earlier with cerebral malaria were recruited at Mulago Hospital, Kampala, Uganda. For eight weeks, 32 of the children received weekly training sessions using Captain’s Log cognitive training software and the other 33 were assigned to a non treatment condition. Pre- and post-intervention assessments were completed using CogState, a computerized neuropsychological battery, measuring Visuomotor Processing Speed, Working Memory, Learning, Attention and Psychomotor Speed and the Child Behavior Checklist measuring Internalising Problems, Externalising Problems and Total Problems.

Pre-intervention scores were similar between both groups. Treatment effects were observed on Visual Spatial Processing Speed (group effect (standard error) 0.14 (0.03); p< 0.001); on a Working Memory and Learning task (0.08 (0.02); p< 0.001), Psychomotor Speed (0.14 (0.07); p= 0.04) and on Internalising Problems (−3.80 (1.56); p= 0.02) after controlling for age, sex, school grade, quality of the home environment and weight for age z scores. Similar treatment effects were observed when no adjustments for the above covariates were made.

Computerized cognitive training long after the cerebral malaria episode has immediate benefit on some neuropsychological and behavioral functions in African children. The long-term benefit of this intervention needs to be investigated.

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