Oxygen Therapy Improves Cognition in Healthy Older Adults

Is it possible to reverse the cognitive decline that inevitably accompanies healthy aging? Though not quite the proverbial fountain of youth, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may do the trick. 

According to a new paper published in the journal Aging, three months of oxygen therapy may lead to sizeable improvement in cognitive function and associated increases in cerebral blood flow (CBF). The NeuroTrax global cognitive score was the primary endpoint and evidenced a large benefit for HBOT as compared to a control condition. Substantial effects were also found in attention and information processing domains. Notably, improvement was more robust for computerized measures than for traditional pen-and-paper tests. HBOT led to increased CBF in brain regions related to age-related functional decline: superior and middle frontal gyri, supplementary motor area, and superior parietal lobule.

In the study, conducted by Dr. Shai Efrati and his team at the Shamir (Assaf Harofeh) Medical Center, sixty-three healthy adults ages 64 and older were randomized to receive HBOT or no intervention. Participants in the HBOT group completed sixty 90-minute sessions, 5 sessions per week, over a three-month period. In previous studies, Dr. Efrati’s group showed beneficial cognitive effects of HBOT in such conditions as stroke and traumatic brain injury, but this study is the first to demonstrate cognitive enhancement in healthy older adults. In all these studies, scores from NeuroTrax tests were the primary cognitive outcomes.

The new Aging paper suggests that oxygen treatment, combined with precision cognitive metrics for tracking change over time (as provided by NeuroTrax), offers promise in mitigating the gradual cognitive decline that accompanies normal aging. Given these encouraging findings, future studies might explore whether HBOT’s restorative properties can actually delay onset or slow progression of neurodegenerative disease.

Hadanny, A., Daniel-Kotovsky, M., Suzin, G., Boussi-Gross, R., Catalogna, M., Dagan, K., Hachmo, Y., Abu Hamed, R., Sasson, E., Fishlev, G., Lang, E., Polak, N., Doenyas, K., Friedman, M., Tal, S., Zemel, Y., Bechor, Y., and Efrati, S. (2020). Cognitive enhancement of healthy older adults using hyperbaric oxygen: A randomized controlled trial. Aging, 12, 13740–13761. PMID: 32589613

See this Psychology Today  article  on the study.