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Growing concern (and hope) about astronauts’ cognitive health during spaceflight

NASA astro­naut Scott Kel­ly checks out the Microsoft HoloLens aboard a space sta­tion on Feb­ru­ary 20, 2016. (Pho­to by NASA via Get­ty Images)

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About the con­cern: Brain MRI scans may help NASA plan safer mis­sions to space (Health Imag­ing):

Not a lot is known about cog­ni­tive impair­ment in humans dur­ing space­flight,” Don­na R. Roberts, MD, Med­ical Uni­ver­si­ty of South Carolina’s Depart­ment of Radi­ol­o­gy, said in a state­ment … Roberts found “wide­spread” changes in brain struc­ture that cor­re­lat­ed with changes in cog­ni­tive per­for­mance and motor skills.

The long-term effects of these brain changes remains unknown, the authors wrote, but based on the find­ings, Roberts argued that NASA needs to change its med­ical pro­to­col…

These find­ings sug­gest that the brain changes seen with micro­grav­i­ty have mea­sur­able behav­ioral con­se­quences,” Roberts and col­leagues explained in the study. “While observed in a rel­a­tive­ly small sam­ple, with some vari­a­tion based on astro­naut demo­graph­ics, these results may have major health sig­nif­i­cance that should be con­sid­ered in space­flight pol­i­cy and plan­ning.”

The full study was pub­lished online in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Neu­ro­ra­di­ol­o­gy.

About the hope: How VR, AR could sup­port astro­nauts’ men­tal health in space (Mobi­Health News):

Spend­ing three years in an enclosed space­craft with less than a hand­ful of com­pan­ions is a daunt­ing task — not just phys­i­cal­ly but psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly. How­ev­er, that will be the real­i­ty for the crew going to Mars, a trip which is slat­ed for some time in the next two decades … Aug­ment­ed and vir­tu­al real­i­ty con­tin­u­ous­ly resur­faced at the con­fer­ence as a way to address astro­nauts’ men­tal well­be­ing dur­ing the three-year jour­ney to Mars…

In addi­tion to just mood, we need to think about what is the phys­i­o­log­i­cal impact. What does the radi­a­tion do to cog­ni­tive and behav­ioral func­tion, what does it do to the immune func­tion,” Fab­re said (Edi­tor’s Note: Kristin Fab­re, senior inno­va­tion sci­en­tist at Trans­la­tion­al Research Insti­tute for Space Health). “So, when we are look­ing at a lot of these tech­nolo­gies to gauge cog­ni­tive or behav­ioral well­be­ing, we would also like to have a phys­i­o­log­i­cal ele­ment to it as well. So, tying in mon­i­tor­ing or diag­nos­ing to what is hap­pen­ing on the phys­i­o­log­i­cal lev­el.”

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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