DOI: 10.1002/alz.074209 ISSN: 1552-5260

A novel drug‐free intervention to improve cognitive performance in unimpaired older participants: the power of affective touch

Loredana Frau, Valentina Cazzato, Francis Macglone, Davide Bruno
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



Affective and emotional symptoms (i.e., anxiety, depressions) are common neuropsychiatric symptoms in pre‐clinical dementia. Affective touch (AT),—a pleasant interoceptive stimulus which is signalled by the C‐Tactile system, has been shown to regulate stress responses, physical pain, and negative affect. However, to date, no study has examined if AT also may improve cognitive performance. Here,we investigated whether AT affected inhibitory control (IC; i.e., the ability to inhibit irrelevant information and select more appropriate behaviours)in unimpaired older adults.


Thirty‐six unimpaired older adults (Mean age = 68.12, SD = 5.90) performed two computerised Stroop tasks (classic and emotional version). Before performing each task, participants in the experimental group received brush stroking on the forearm at CT‐optimalvelocity(3 cm/s) while participants in the control group did not receive any touch stimulation (No Touch). To estimate changes in the affective state we used a self‐rating questionnaire (PANAS) and physiological measures (Heart Rate variability‐HRV). To estimate cognitive performance we analysed response time and interference in both tasks. For analyses of HRVsignals, three‐time windows were examined: resting state pre‐task and, before each cognitive task. A repeated measure design was used at baseline and follow‐up.


Participants in the AT group displayed improved response time in the Stroop tasks and greater physiological arousal (i.e., HRV) before performing both tasks compared to controls.


To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study highlighting the role of the touch‐induced physiological arousal in inhibitory control. Beyond regulating emotion and arousal, gentle touch appears to enhance the cognitive processes underlying the suppression of goal‐irrelevant stimuli. Overall, current data seem to suggest that a multi‐modal affective‐cognitive intervention integrating AT may be a promising tool for delaying the natural effects of aging on cognition. Future research should extend this paradigm to individuals with impaired cognition and dementia.

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