New Research Aims to Curb Alzheimer’s, Help Blind People “See” by Hearing

By Matis Glenn


Researchers at Reichman University’s Brain Cognition and Technology department in Israel say they may have killed two birds with one stone: staving off Alzheimer’s disease and helping blind people navigate, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Using audio sensory training, the team of researchers found that blind people, even those who never were able to see, were able to identify objects, shapes, letters, faces, and map out paths.

By stimulating a part of the brain’s visual processing center, called area V6, with audio, brain scans indicated that area V6 had shown activity during a maze navigation exercise despite the patients’ eyes not functioning.  

The tools used in the stimulation are non-invasive SSD’s, Sensory Substitution Devices, which transfer information from one sense to another; in this case, from hearing to seeing. Researchers say that this process is a form of “reprogramming” the brain to process visual information.   

The study shows new hope for possibly detecting and even preventing Alzheimer’s disease, a dreaded progressive failure of memory and cognitive abilities typically occurring in the elderly. One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s is diminished spatial reasoning, and according to the studies, this can be corrected with SSD training.

The findings are raising doubts about long-held beliefs on how senses and the brain work. The theory of “critical periods,” for one, maintains that senses can only be developed early in life, with each sense having a cut-off time for development – subjects in the Reichmann trials varied in ages, including older adults, but no substantial difference was recorded.  Another wide-held belief in neurological circles is the “division by senses” theory, which says that each sense functions independently of another.

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