December 1, 2006
KING5 - Seattle
Jean Enersen

A new computer game is proving so successful with seniors that Humana insurance company has to decided offer it free to its Medicare advantage patients beginning next year.

Here’s how Brain Fitness works:

Classically-trained singer Raida Tostis knows dozens of opera lyrics by heart, but ask her a phone number and she’s stumped.

“I don’t remember phone numbers, who remembers phone numbers?” she asked.

Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich is all too familiar with the aging brain.

“I witnessed my own mother progress into Alzheimer’s disease and watched her disappear before my eyes,” he said.

Now Dr. Merzenich and his team have created a series of exercises to stop and even reverse memory loss.

“The brain is a learning machine and it’s really demanding that it be engaged in new learning,” he said.

These games require participants to match sounds. Exercises get faster and faster, forcing the brain to process quicker, sometimes as fast as a 30-year-old.

In a recent study, participants — who were aged 61 to 94 — improved memory by an average of 10 years.

“The brain really can outlive the body, it creates awareness, it makes you think,” said Sommer Garner who teaches the program at Fairwinds retirement community in Redmond.

She says she sees improvement week after week. Graduate Raida Tostis says she was surprised by her results.

“I remembered phone numbers that I never remembered before,” she said.

“She just rattled off the number, she knew the phone number without looking…that was my proudest moment of being the coach,” Garner said.

It’s not just phone numbers.

“I remember three words on my crossword puzzle instead of one today, I remember my credit card number,” Tostis said.

The game retails for just under $500.

The company is also beginning a study with breast cancer patients to find out if the program can reverse the effects of chemo brain.