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A New Benefit for Your Aging Brain!

Note: This article is over 60 days old, and may contain information that is out of date, or has been superseded by newer information.

Doctors have always told us that keeping our bodies physically fit is an important part of overall well-being as we age, but keeping your brain in shape is an equally important part of living a healthy, vibrant life.

Why Is Brain Fitness Important?

Everyone experiences a gradual decline in memory, attention, concentration, language use, and other brain functions as they age. The older adult brain commonly learns shortcuts to make everyday tasks easier, making it more likely that individuals won’t use their brains in ways that sustain cognitive abilities. The average older brain actually shrinks because people don’t use it as much as they used to. When it comes to the brain you literally have to “use it or lose it,” and targeted cognitive exercises that meet specific scientific standards have been proven to be the most effective in improving memory and keeping the brain fit and active.

That’s why Capital Health Plan will soon offer brain fitness programs from Posit Science, the leading provider of clinically validated brain health products and services.

Posit Science InSight™

Beginning in January, CHP members who are aged 65 years or more will be able to order a software copy of InSight, a Posit Science program that is 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.

Posit Science works with more than 50 leading scientists from universities around the world to develop computer programs that give the brain a workout. Proven effective in dozens of published studies, Posit Science brain fitness programs improve memory, increase brain speed, and help people get the most out of life.

Clinical trials prove InSight helps older adults:

• Drive more safely—drivers can avoid collisions by almost 40% by cutting down on dangerous driving moves, such as unsafe lane changes

• Capture more visual details when scanning medication labels, traveling, house hunting, or doing any vision-rich task

• React more quickly when playing sports, walking in a crowded area, and other situations that require quick responses to visual information

Studies have also proven that InSight helps older adults maintain their health-related quality of life and prolong their ability to live independently, along with many other benefits.

How Do Posit Science Programs Work?

Experts used to believe that the adult brain was unchangeable, like a computer with all of its parts permanently welded together, but scientists now know that declines in cognitive abilities are not inevitable—or irreversible. The brain has the ability to physically change throughout a person’s life, even to grow new cells. This phenomenon, called brain plasticity, is how people learn and remember everything during their lives, from learning how to talk, to playing a musical instrument, to driving a car.

Posit Science programs exercise the brain and drive physical changes that create new neural pathways and connections. These positive changes can directly improve memory, attention, and other cognitive abilities.

Current members who are age 65 or older and who will be CHP members in 2009 may pre-register for the program by calling 1-877-582-1852, 9:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. TTY/TDD users, please call 850-383-3534 or 1-800-955-8771.

Ask Dr. Nancy

Note: This article is over 60 days old, and may contain information that is out of date, or has been superseded by newer information.

Q: What activities really help in avoiding mental decline as we age?

That’s a great question—for one reason because you assume brain power need not diminish with time. You’re right. As our cover story explains, scientists now know that brain cells and neural pathways can grow throughout life. Yes, the brain does shrink from age (particularly from about the 60s on), but many easy, everyday activities counteract the process and its mental losses.

 

1. Move it or lose it.

You may be surprised at the premier strategy for keeping your brain sharp: physical exercise. The scientific evidence is clear. Just walking 30–60 minutes several times a week has a big impact on the brain’s “executive functions”: planning, focusing, working memory (for example, retaining a phone number as you dial), multitasking, and making good behavior choices. More exercise increases the benefit. Lifelong exercisers show better mental functioning and less incidence of Alzheimer’s than sedentary people. However, even inactive people of 70 years and older improve cognitive performance with regular exercise. Why? Physical activity improves blood vessel health (blood flow to the brain) and releases proteins that grow neurons and their connections. The brain shrinks less.

 

2. Use it or lose it.

Seek out mental stimulation and training, like the coming InSight™ program for CHP seniors (see page 1). Research shows that learning something new (a language, sport, skill) or improving visual and aural acuity leads to overall improvement in brain function. Practicing a specific task (memory of names, for example) has a more limited benefit.

 

3. Get connected.

Social ties keep your brain livelier. In a study of 2,800 people aged 65 or older, those with at least five social ties suffered less cognitive decline than those without ties. Having connections doesn’t mean a social whirl. The ties included church and social groups, regular visits, and phone calls. Walk with a friend. Your brain gets a double boost!

 

4. Eat to think.

Some nutrients, such as antioxidants, appear to protect our brains—and they’re in tasty foods. Many experts recommend diets rich in colorful fruits (berries, raisins, prunes, oranges, red grapes), dark-colored vegetables (spinach, kale, eggplant), and fish with omega-e fatty acids (salmon, trout).

 

So . . . move, learn, socialize, eat well, and stay smart! It’s your choice. Live well.