July 21, 2010
The Orange County Register
Jane Glenn Haas

Rena Wiseman says, “I like the birds and the flowers.”

But the leaves, well, “you can leave them there.”

Wiseman, 88, is talking about InSight, a brain fitness program developed by Posit Science Corp.

The Leisure World Seal Beach resident started playing InSight’s “games” four years ago as part of a USC research program on older adults and computer use.

“Each game is so good,” she says. “I don’t think it changed my mental ability, but it keeps me more active. I’m always thinking. Always observing.”

She equates it with exercise – “fun exercise” – like the ballroom dancing she did several nights a week with her late husband, Maurice.

“Exercise is good for you,” she says. “And if you enjoy doing it, it’s even better because you will. Do it, that is.”

Last week, a research team from UC San Francisco agreed with Wiseman. The scientists cited the Posit program as the first to show that practicing simple visual tasks can improve the accuracy of short-term or working visual memory.

At the same time, The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., provider of AARP’s auto insurance programs for 50-plus drivers, said using the training tool can help older adults reduce their likelihood of being in a car accident.

And there’s more.

The American Automobile Association, Allstate and State Farm auto insurance programs are endorsing DriveSharp, a portion of the InSight program being sold separately. In Southern California, AAA offers a $20 discount to members who want to buy the program, retailing regularly for $89 on positscience.com. The insurers also are offering selected discount options.

What’s up here?

“Brain fitness exercises help you react faster and reduce crash risk by up to 50 percent,” says the Posit site.

How does this work?

Well, first, it’s for the 50-plus user who faces some inevitable brain decline with age, according to scientists.

The program is based on brain challenge, says Steven Aldrich, Posit’s CEO.

InSight, which is priced around $395, includes the DriveSharp program. Aldrich thinks that’s a bargain, saying, “How much would you pay for a prescription that was good for you and your brain and had no side effects?”

But let’s talk about DriveSharp:

The program comes with a CD including two brain fitness assessments and exercises designed to improve driving skills.

Two exercises aim to strengthen brain functions to improve focus and ability to react faster. You can train at your own level, improve, set your own schedule.

Among the programs are Jewel Diver, designed to develop the ability to remember and follow many objects at once. Road Tour aims to improve your useful field of view.

According to The Hartford, playing DriveSharp for 20 minutes a day, three times a week, helps 50-plus drivers “cut their crash risk up to 50 percent, stop 22 feet sooner when driving 55 mph and increase confidence while driving at night and in stressful conditions.”

Hartford is offering $50 checks to policyholders who complete the program. For details, see hartfordbrainfitness.com.

The scientific studies and discounts from auto insurers don’t impress Leisure World’s Wiseman.

“I just know that I’m as smart as I always was,” she says.

Dr. Adam Grazzaley of UC San Francisco puts it this way: “This (study of the Posit program) confirms our understanding that the brains of older adults, like those of young people, are ‘plastic’ – the brain can change in response to focused training.”

10 brain fitness tips

Eat dark chocolate: It causes your brain to release dopamine, which improves overall function and memory.

Eat fish: Especially fatty fish like salmon

Play ball: Throwing a ball up in the air and catching it, or juggling, improves hand-eye coordination.

Rest: Get a good night’s sleep.

Get uncomfortable: Make your hobbies harder by tackling something more difficult than you are used to.

Walk on a rocky road: Scientists believe adjusting to an uneven surface improves the vestibular system of the inner ear and helps improve balance.

Go to a museum: Take the guided tour, and when you get home, write an outline and include every detail you remember.

Exercise your brain: Brain fitness exercises like DriveSharp, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, etc.

Learn a musical instrument: This exercises many interrelated brain functions.

Use your other hand: Try this when brushing your teeth.