January 17, 2020
Digital Journal
Tim Sandle

There’s an emerging consensus in the medical world about the value of evidence-based brain training. Leading neuroscientist Dr. Henry Mahncke explains why and provides some tips on getting it for free.

Over the past few years the importance of physical exercise has been stressed. Now it is the turn to stress the importance of the brain, in the form of brain training. Brain training (or cognitive training) refers to a program of regular activities purported to maintain or improve a person’s cognitive abilities.

To learn more about the value of brain training, Digital Journal caught up with neuroscientist Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, the maker of BrainHQ computerized brain exercises. BrainHQ is designed to act as a personal brain gym, utilizing digital technology.

Digital Journal: There used to be mixed messages on the value of brain training. Has that changed?
Dr. Henry Mahncke: There were good reasons for the mixed messages. A few years ago, a systematic review showed that most of the brain games and exercises in the market targeting seniors had no evidence of efficacy. In fact, our brain exercises in BrainHQ stood out as the only exercises the reviewers found that were validate in multiple “high quality” studies.
That said, in recent years, there’s been a major shift among thought leaders toward recommending brain training – or, more properly, evidence-based brain training.
That includes recommendations in recent years from the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the American Academy of Neurology, the World Health Organization, and US Against Alzheimer’s. Some of the 150+ studies of our training were cited in connection with such recommendations.

DJ: Has that shift in thought leader recommendations had much impact?
Mahncke: Absolutely. It has had a huge impact. Without a doubt it influenced a change in Medicare Advantage regulations that became effective last year and that now permits Medicare Advantage plans to provide BrainHQ to members without charge or co-pays.
That change has made brain exercises available to millions of seniors from their health plans. Thus far, Anthem, Care Partners, Kaiser Permanente, and United Health Group have offered BrainHQ through some or all of their Medicare Advantage plans.

DJ: Why are health plans adding this benefit?
Mahncke: I think, first, because the evidence is now in that it improves health outcomes; second, that while improving outcomes it also lowers healthcare costs; and third, that it engages plan members with a high degree of frequency. A large AARP survey found that brain health is actually the top concern of older adults, surpassing concerns about saving Medicare and Social Security, and in other surveys surpassing financial and relationship concerns. Addressing that concern seems to really resonate as a key differentiator in competing for new members and in retaining them.

DJ: Are there ways to get the BrainHQ exercises for free other than through your health plan?
Mahncke: I’m happy to answer that, but first I’d like to point out that we have really tried to make the exercises broadly available at low cost – from $8-14 per month depending on type of subscription.
You also can register online at brainhq.com or download the free BrainHQ app and do a few minutes of exercises every day for free, until you are ready to make a bigger time commitment.
In addition, BrainHQ is made available by the U.S. Department of Defense for free to every active duty soldier, sailor, airman, and marine through its MWR OneSource program. That benefit also is available to retired servicemembers. In addition, hundreds of local libraries make BrainHQ available to library patrons. Similarly, BrainHQ is available through many retirement communities, senior centers, and adult education programs at no or low cost. Most AAA auto clubs also offer a subset of BrainHQ exercises shown to improve driving (called Drivesharp) at low cost, and in many states, AAA auto insurers provide it for free to older drivers, with a discount on insurance for completing the program.