November 7, 2006
The Fresno Bee
Robert Rodriguez

A San Francisco technology company is helping seniors in Fresno get a cerebral tuneup with a computer program aimed at sharpening their memory and thinking skills.

The program, called Brain Fitness, is being provided by the Fairwinds retirement community and speech pathologist Kathryn Wage in Fresno.

Developed by the Posit Science Corp., the program has received quite a bit of attention in national publications and among baby boomers concerned about staying mentally fit.

“One of the big fears about getting older is developing dementia,” said Helen Miltiades, director of the interdisciplinary gerontology programs at California State University, Fresno. “People don’t want to lose their mind and memory, so they are finding ways to keep fit, both physically and mentally.”

As interest in staying fit grows, so does the retail market for products designed to benefit the aging brain.

This spring, video game giant Nintendo began selling Brain Age, a game specifically targeting older adults. And Posit Science has joined with more than 100 retirement communities; SeniorNet, a nationwide provider of technology to older adults; and Humana, the nation’s leading health insurer.

“We are at the point with brain fitness where we are starting to understand the things you can do to keep your brain fit,” said Peggy Jara, spokeswoman for Posit Science. “The science is very real.”

Posit also offers the program through nearly 100 authorized providers, including Fresno speech pathologist Wage.

Wage said she jumped at the chance to offer Brain Fitness, a program that sells for $395. Her company, the Center for Communication Skills, provides services to children with speech, communication and learning challenges.

“This helps us serve a segment of the population that we are not servicing right now,” Wage said. “And people are really interested in this issue.”

Wage said she studied the company’s research and encourages others to do their homework before choosing a brain fitness program.

Posit has conducted research with leading universities, including Mayo Clinic, Stanford University, University of Southern California and University of California at San Francisco.

The company’s chief scientific officer is Michael Merzinech, one of the leading pioneers in brain research.

Scientists have found nearly everyone begins to experience a decline in cognitive abilities with age. Occasional forgetfulness typically begins by the mid-30s and begins to accelerate after 50.

Brain Fitness works by using a series of easy-to-use computer exercises that are performed an hour a day, five days a week, for at least eight weeks.

Users of the program report improved memory, a greater ability to communicate and increased focus and self-confidence.

At Fairwinds retirement community in northwest Fresno, Violet Vartan, 91, can’t get enough of the program. The residents pay $100 for the eight-week course.

“I want to keep doing it again,” Vartan said. “It’s easy and fun to do. And I think it is working on me.”

Vartan and several other residents said they feel better after doing the computer exercises.

Edith Starkweather, 81, said she has noticed an improvement in her communication skills and wants to do as much as she can to stay mentally sharp.

“I want to keep going in life as long as I can,” Starkweather said. “I am not ready to quit just yet.”