July 13, 2006
Hampton Pearson

The science of “brain fitness” is about to get a jump-start from a major health insurer. Humana, one of the nation’s biggest health insurance companies, announced a partnership yesterday with a San Francisco company that is pioneering the concept.

At an assisted-living facility in the city, seniors are welcome to spend time at the in-house brain gym, “working out” on computers that improve attention span and help recapture memory and hearing — flexing their mental muscles and improving their lives.

Inside the brain gym, elderly patrons receive instructions on headsets and respond to specific commands. So far, response from participants has been broadly positive, with most users pleased by the results.

“Concentration is the one word that I really feel that I’ve really got better at doing,” said Ellen McCarthy, a 79-year-old brain fitness program user.

“It’s made me listen more intently, be more aware of what I’m saying and how I’m speaking,” said Eda Carnilia, an 86 year old in the program.

The software that drives the workouts is the brainchild of Posit Science. The company has spent the last three years developing programs that “teach an old brain new tricks.” Participants in controlled studies, aged 60 to 97, have shown the equivalent of 10 years of improvement. But, Posit Science refuses to rest on its initial success.

“It’s just the beginning of what is unequivocally going to be a revolution in what we must do to maintain our mental fitness, our brain fitness in life,” said Dr. Michael Mernovich, co-founder of Posit Science.

This revolutionary product is now getting a mainstream stamp of approval. Humana, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, plans to offer the brain fitness program to millions of seniors. In addition, Humana Medicare members will be able to purchase the software at a sizable discount. The company says it is a perfect fit with its desire to encourage active lifestyles for older adults

“The more we can provide opportunities to keep healthy people, we expect people to look at that as a value that Humana is different from other health insurance companies,” said Scott Latimer, a Humana doctor.

If reactions by the brain fitness program’s participants are any indication, Humana might be right.