April 12, 2018
Cape May County Herald
Dr. Judith Coche

One of the saddest decades in my life to date spanned 1981 through 1991. As dementia robbed my father of his startling intellect, the crackerjack sarcasm of his one-liners lingered long after he could no longer remain mentally alert long enough to care for his own needs.

We cared for him at home for over one year. He had become a dear soul who sat in bed and tried to please my husband and me, his primary caretakers.

When he became incontinent, we had to place him in an expensive Center City Philadelphia memory-care center. The center was unable to hire adequate weekend staff coverage for their charges, so dad was under stimulated and declined more rapidly, yet that decade of care cost every penny of the substantial funds he had put aside to leave for the granddaughter he cherished.

After the tragedy of watching my warm, funny, and super-bright dad slide into an abyss of lack of memory, I began to keep track of any scientific progress that could help clients, friends, and family. Not much has been available worth writing, but now, a quarter of a century later, care is better. With 76 million of us baby boomers, it better be.

The new word in memory loss is prevention. What a great idea, but can we slow mental decline?

It sure looks like we can! Speed of visual processing is a cognitive skill that declines with age, but we can train the brain to decline almost half as slowly!

Posit Science has developed a series of easy games to help us enable more plasticity in our brain. I followed the link and found a game that is fun to do.

The “Double Decision” game is found online and sold by the San Francisco-based Posit Science Corp. The game exercises your ability to detect, remember, and respond to cues that appear and disappear quickly in varying locations on a computer screen. It uses colorful trucks, cars, and signs to create increased ability.

Studies show many benefits in speed, attention, memory, mood, confidence, balance, gait, and driving. These exercises are worth the 90 minutes weekly the scientists suggest.

This benefits people of all ages looking for a cognitive edge and wanting to prevent decline. The exercises are recommended by many, including the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

Measuring the outcome, life was better by almost half for those who committed to training. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recently reported the impact of The ACTIVE study of nearly 3,000 cognitive participants who averaged age 73 when they started the exercises.

Each got 10-hour long, computerized training sessions over five weeks, designed to increase the speed at which the brain picks up and processes cues in a person’s field of vision. Cognitive decline or dementia was not only less among those in the speed-of-processing group; when it appeared, it came later. Compared to study participants who got no training at all, recruits who went through more than 10 of the computerized brain-training sessions were 48 percent less likely over 10 years to experience dementia.

BrainHQ focuses on improving the elemental building blocks of perceptual speed and attention as foundational to gains in higher cognitive functions, such as memory and decision-making. The exercises get harder when you are having a good day and ease up when you are having a difficult day, to help you push through new levels of your “personal best.”

It was developed by a team headed by neuroscientist Dr. Mike Merzenich, a leading authority on brain plasticity. He won the equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize in neuroscience.

One successful trainee lives in a retirement community. She said that aging is filled with daily small indignities.

She couldn’t remember a phone number long enough to dial it after she looked it up, so she could not call a friend. Now, she remembers phone numbers and can be more like her old self.

The examiner finished that interview and then cried with pure joy as he realized what science can do to help us all live better lives longer.

To consider: How could you benefit from a more plastic brain?  Would you devote 90 minutes a week to get one? Why or why not? What could be more important?

To read: Caroline M. Cilio and Tracy A. Lustig, Rapporteurs; Forum on Aging, Disability, and Independence; Board on Health Sciences Policy; Health and Medicine Division; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Try the game: The “Double Decision” game is found online and sold by the San Francisco-based Posit Science Corporation. There is a modest charge to join for a year, but no charge to try it. I encourage you to click and see.