November 2, 2008
Tallahassee Democrat
Dave Hodges

Capital Health Plan will roll out a new exercise plan for members in 2009, but put away those thoughts of lacing up sneakers and hoisting dumbbells.

This one will tone up your gray matter.

Beginning in January, CHP members who are 65 years or older will be able to order a software called InSight, a PositScience program designed to speed up and sharpen visual processing and memory, important parts of overall brain fitness. There is no additional out-of-pocket cost for CHP members.

“We found out about PositScience and actually looked at a lot of their data and literature, and it appeared that this was a program that would benefit our senior members,” said Dr. Nancy Van Vessem, CHP’s chief medical officer.

Studies ongoing for some time show that with the right drills, the user can improve cognitive function, thereby reversing the natural decline that occurs with aging.

“What we realize is that how well people do in many, many ways has to do with how well they can maintain their cognitive function,” Van Vessem said. For members of the health plan, that equates to better quality of life.

“It’s part of what we call a brain fitness program,” she added. “Just like we want people to maintain their physical functioning, we think it’s important for people to maintain their brain functioning.”

A typical InSight activity on the computer exercises a certain brain function. In the part called “Bird Safari” the user exercises his or her visual precision by locating specific birds in the peripheral vision after they flash very quickly on the screen.

“I was most impressed by the studies,” Van Vessem said. One in particular was the ACTIVE Study, which stands for Advanced Cognitive Training in the Independent and Vital Elderly. It involved 2,800 participants across the country and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Actually, what it shows was after doing the training, that there was a big effect in the ability to take in information and the speed with which that information was used,” she said.

Neuroscientist Dr. Joe Hardy explained that the exercises are done in 10-minute blocks. A session is 40 minutes, or four of the blocks.

Results documented were based on 10 hours of training over about a 10-week period. “You see the results immediately,” he said. “In other words, you see those benefits to the speed of processing and the useful field of view, taking information in more quickly and efficiently. Those are evident immediately,” he added. “Really what we see is a change in the trajectory of aging.”

For years, cognitive decline was believed to be irreversible, but Dr. Michael Merzenich, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco and PositScience founder, and his team suspected that the brain does change. With the right stimulation, it can expand and form more neuro-connections.

“Our mission is to get the science to the people and to get as many people helped by the science as possible,” said Eric Mann, vice president of marketing at PositScience. “We see changes. We hear about changes every day and it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Current members who are age 65 or older and who will be CHP members in 2009 may pre-register for the program by calling 523-7422.

Software helps seniors regain mental edge

The San Francisco software company Posit Science Corp. will begin distributing its InSight software in Tallahassee in January through an agreement with Capital Health Plan. The computer program will be available for free to CHP members who are age 65 and older.

The InSight exercises are based on research that showed if the brain is stimulated in the right way, a person’s cognitive abilities can improve. In effect, users can recover that mental edge we all tend to lose as we age.

Duane and Jill Osborne live in Hollywood, FL, and have been InSight users for about seven months, she said. The activities have been particularly helpful to her husband, 64, who was starting to have some problems with short-term memory. “I can see that it’s keeping him sharp and alert,” said Mrs. Osborne, 62.

The InSight “Bird Safari” exercise, for example, works on one’s peripheral vision. “Jewel Diver” is a simulated scuba dive for treasure, but you must remember where the jewels are while you are distracted by schools of fish. The game gets progressively more difficult. “As you get better, you have more fish to deal with,” she explained.

Mrs. Osborne thinks the InSight software is an important aid to brain fitness. “The visual definitely helps the driving,” she added. “The reactions improve, the peripheral vision is extended with that program, the reaction time.”

Another user, Dee Dee Ratiner, 69, lives in Stuart. She uses two PositScience programs, Brain Fitness and Cortex, which includes the Bird Safari and Jewel Diver exercises.

“Mentally, I think I am quite alert for my age,” she said, noting that she is sharper than some of her friends. “What would it be if I didn’t do the program? It’s hard to say.”

She enjoys the activities and said anyone who can get the software for free should take the offer. “I recommend it very highly,” she added. “Any older person who has access to a computer who has an opportunity to use this program for free and doesn’t take advantage of this is doing their mind a great injustice.”