October 15, 2006

(ATLANTA,GA) With the right training, the brain of an 85-year old can be just as quick as that of a 30-year old, according to researchers from Posit Science, who presented a study of auditory brain processing speed this week at the Society for Neuroscience, a gathering of 30,000 brain scientists.

The study involved 180 healthy adults aged 21 to 97, who engaged in repeated trials to determine the fastest speed at which they could reliably make distinctions in sounds. “This was a test of how ‘quick’ you are in processing what you hear,” said Mike Trujillo, lead author of the study. “That’s important in capturing and remembering what you hear.”

The researchers were surprised to see how performance changes with age, according to Henry Mahncke, Ph.D., head of the Posit Science research team. “This study shows a much tighter correlation between age and speed than expected,” explained Dr. Mahncke. “On average, speed really slows with advancing years. Younger adults can process auditory information almost three times faster than older adults. We also see increasing variance with age — young adults are tightly clustered in performance, but with each passing decade the variability in performance widens.”

It turned out this was not, however, the biggest surprise of the study. That came when the researchers looked at how training can improve processing speed. A group of 23 subjects aged 75+ did brain exercises for eight weeks and then were re-tested. The regimen required an hour of training a day (for a total of 40 hours) using the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program.

The average auditory brain processing speed of the subjects improved dramatically — more than doubling. “On average, this group of people aged 75-97 were now able to process auditory information at the speed of a 30-year old,” Dr. Mahncke reported. “While individual results varied, every person who went through the Brain Fitness Program increased processing speed.”

Individuals can take the Brain Speed Test online at www.PositScience.com.

“These results are consistent with our other recently published studies,” Dr. Mahncke added, “in which we saw average gains of more than 10 years in memory and other cognitive measures.” Those randomized, controlled studies were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August and in Progress in Brain Research this month.

Dr. Mahncke’s team also presented three other studies at Society for Neuroscience, adding to the growing body of evidence that with the right type of training regimen older brains can be functionally rejuvenated. Those presentations included:

  • Natasha Belfor, Ph.D. and Sharona Atkins presented data from three studies of 217 older adults, in which those engaged in the Brain Fitness Program had statistically significant improvement in language comprehension and working memory as compared to a control group. The gains were substantial. These improvements correlate to daily problem solving, such as following a recipe, navigating a phone tree, paying bills or following driving directions.
  • Peter Delahunt, Ph.D. presented results from a study in which younger and older adults were asked to make visual distinctions at increasing speed. The study showed that older subjects have much slower visual processing speed than younger subjects. After more than 10 hours of training in visual exercises, the older subjects were able to perform in the same range as the younger subjects.
  • Travis Wade, Ph.D. presented a study using novel and extremely accurate computer-delivered assessments of auditory performance, including measures of auditory processing speed and accuracy and various types of memory. The study shows these measures all decline with age. More importantly, the study shows these declines are highly correlated with one another. This helps explain why targeting underlying deficits such as speed and accuracy of processing can generalize to measures of memory and cognition.

“We are fortunate to be able to draw on a global team of more than 50 collaborators from leading universities,” said Dr. Mahncke. “We are pushing the frontiers of science every month.”

Posit Science has attracted more than $30 million in venture capital since its founding in 2003. It also has received direct grant support from the National Institutes of Health.

“Our initial focus is on changing the way we age,” said Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., Chief Scientist of Posit Science. “However, this is just the beginning of a revolution in brain health. We also expect to dramatically affect how we treat many cognitive disorders and how we achieve peak performance in work and in life.”