October 18, 2006

(ATLANTA, GA) Special new training methods can enable older adults to operate with the visual processing speed and accuracy of someone decades younger, according to researchers from Posit Science, who presented a study this week at the Society for Neuroscience, a gathering of 30,000 brain scientists.

“This has widespread implications,” said Peter Delahunt, Ph.D., lead author of the study. “These improved abilities are directly applicable to a host of activities of daily life, including performance at sports, driving safely and navigating the world more generally.”

In the study, participants with a mean age of 26 were measured against older participants with a mean age of 68 in two tasks that measured the speed and accuracy of their visual processing. The younger participants performed at about twice the level of the older participants.

The older participants then engaged in 10 hours of intensive computer-based training designed to improve visual processing. The training used algorithms with an adaptive staircase procedure to continuously challenge the older participants and drive them toward higher levels of performance. After the training, the older group performed with speed and accuracy comparable to the group that was more than four decades younger. The results were statistically significant.

The tests involved making distinctions at increasing speed among visual stimuli that moved inward and outward and that rotated.

“This indicates that the right kind of training can drive large changes in visual perception and cognition,” said Henry Mahncke, Ph.D., the head of the Posit Science research team. “We have recently published two studies showing that we can reliably improve auditory memory and cognition. This extends that research into the visual realm.”

Studies recently published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and in Progress in Brain Research showed that computer-based exercises from Posit Science, marketed as the Brain Fitness Program, can improve auditory memory and cognition, on average, by more than 10 years in older adults.

“We use the brain’s natural plasticity – its ability to change physically and functionally at any age – to improve cognitive performance,” Dr. Mahncke said.

“Generally, our exercises are designed to improve the speed and accuracy of sensory processing and to stimulate the neuromodulatory system – the brain’s natural chemical machinery which enables learning and memory,” Dr. Mahncke explained. “These particular exercises were more specifically designed to strengthen the cortical representational of visual inputs.”

Dr. Mahncke indicated that these exercises were a part of a larger suite, currently undergoing testing, designed to enhance visual processing, memory and cognition.