August 7, 2006
Staff Reporter

People 60 years or older can improve their memory by 10 years or more. That’s the findings of a new study published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The randomized, controlled study looked at the effects of the Brain Fitness Program, a computer-based set of exercises. It was developed by Posit Science Corporation, a San Francisco company that promotes brain health. Researchers tested 182 people aged 60 to 87. They gave each participant a standardized, clinical cognitive assessment before and after the study. The experimental group worked on the brain exercises in their homes for about 8 weeks. One control group was given no special instruction while another control group watched educational DVD’s.

Study results show that 93% of the participants working on the brain exercises had an increase in the rate of processing information, meaning they would likely think and act faster. The average participant was 71, but after the training was able to process information reliably at the speed of someone in their twenties.

“Even more important,” according to study co-author Dr. Henry Mahncke, “These improvements generalized to standardized measures of memory that are related to real life functions. It’s noteworthy when gains at specific tasks generalize to things that matter in daily living. The average change on these measures showed a clinically and statistically significant improvement in memory, and many participants showed gains equal to the amount of decline that usually happens over 10 years of aging.”

Follow up tests indicated that the improvements last beyond the training.

The Brain Fitness Program is based on brain plasticity, the brain’s ability to change throughout life if provided with the right kind of exercises. This means mental functions such as memory can be improved at any age.

That’s reassuring news for people like Maria Luisa Bravo. At age 71, her memory was going. “I would start reading and then I’d have to go back and read the same thing again. It was really very frustrating.” But Bravo says that doing the Brain Fitness Program has made her feel young again. “I know my memory is better and this definitely gives me a lot of peace of mind. It gives me confidence.”

Like many people who’ve completed the program, Bravo reports an improved quality of life. She says she now remembers where she parked her car, she no longer forgets appointments and she recalls what she saw at the movies.

“People should be excited about this. It’s the beginning of a revolution” said Posit Science co-founder, neuroscientist, Michael Merzenich, PhD. “What could be more important to us than maintaining our independence by keeping our minds sharp?” Dr Merzenich is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. He and other scientists changed the world of brain science by showing that the brain is capable or reorganization and change at any age. This discovery paved the way for a team of global scientists led by Dr Merzenich to develop the Brain Fitness Program.