By Sara Appel-Lennon
Kathy Lasky describes brain fitness as “hot sauce for the mind.”
“It wakes you up, makes you alert, and awakens your senses,” she said.
Four years ago, the 71-year-old Lasky retired from working as a pharmacy technician after 33 years, but noticed her memory was growing foggy. After reading about a Posit Science brain fitness class offered through San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE) that sharpens cognitive skills and improves memory, she signed up.
“[The class had] everything an adult needs in their later years — and no computer skills required,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m in. That’s perfect for me. Sold!’”
During the past four years, Lasky attended the brain fitness classes three hours per day, Tuesday through Thursday. The classes consisted of an hour of computer time, lectures about the brain, discussions and socializing.
Lasky’s participation in the class was recently the subject of a story on preventing dementia by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. CNN staff interviewed and observed Lasky in her home, in the brain training classroom, at her fitness class, and even while she was driving. The program aired internationally in October and will air nationally in December.
In the CNN special, Dr. Gupta asked Lasky about where people can find the time to do brain fitness?
“How much time do you spend watching television? How much time do you spend on Facebook? How much time do you spend on the telephone? I think you have time,” she said.
Because of the disciplined brain training, Lasky has returned to work. She doesn’t need questions repeated. She hears sounds more distinctly. She focuses more intently and processes information and makes decisions more quickly, she said. Her driving skills have also improved, along with her peripheral vision and reflexes. And there has been another improvement she has noticed since taking the brain fitness classes.
“At family board games, I’m proud to say I win my fair share and I’m the oldest of the generations,” she said.
When Posit Science compared her scores with others, Lasky ranked in the top 91 percent for her age, and the top 88 percent overall.
According to the Posit Science website, Brain Fitness and Brain HQ are the only scientifically-researched computer brain exercises. The idea is people can make their brains younger by doing specific computer brain exercises. Founder of Posit Science and “Father of Brain Plasticity” Dr. Michael Merzenich clinically proved “Double Decision” computerized brain exercises reduce risk of dementia by 48 percent.
“The concept at play here is known as neuroplasticity,” said Dr. Gupta in the CNN special. “It’s this idea that your brain can form new neural connections to prevent future problems or even to make up for ones that are lost due to a brain injury like a concussion or a disease like Alzheimer’s. I think what this Double Decision has taught us is the speed of processing may be as important, if not more important, than memory or reasoning itself. If you want to reduce your rates of developing dementia later, focus on speed.”
For Lasky, “focusing on speed” to reduce her dementia is now a permanent part of her life.
“I’ll never stop, as long as I can get to class,” she told Gupta in the CNN special. “I pencil it right in with everything else. It will enhance your life, help you live an independent life in your golden years with a healthy brain and physical health.”
Brain training has also proved successful for Shinichi Ishikawa, 82, who started attending the classes a few years ago after suffering a brain injury from repeatedly falling out of bed. Before he took the classes, his family accompanied him most places and even taped Velcro inside his shoe with their contact information in case he was lost.
On the last day of class, Ishikawa told his story — and removed the Velcro. His neurologist declared that he is back to normal. He drives again and goes places independently. He regained his short-term memory and his sleep normalized. He again studies calculus and also continues his brain training.
Pat Mosteller is the department head of the SDCE Older Adult Program. She brought the classes to the Older Adult program after a sabbatical study into whether education and brain training generalize to other areas of life.
“Basically, we discovered that they did,” she said. “If you make somebody’s brain stronger through any kind of activity, they will be able to perform what they call Instrumental Activities of Daily Living — a concept discovered by Dr. Fred Gage of UCSD. And that means they can do lots of things better because they are keeping their brain active.”
All of the research she found about computerized brain training referenced Posit Science, so Mosteller contacted Dr. Merzenich.
“I was interested in incorporating what he knew into my classes,” Mosteller said. “What he teaches me is we need to engage all parts of the brain.”
Merzenich invited Mosteller to visit him where he presented her the software and has become a kind of mentor to her. She has since added brain strengthening strategies to the Older Adult curriculum.
Although there are websites that offer brain games and training such as Lumosity, Mosteller thinks brain fitness classes are better than sitting at home alone on a computer.
“They’re not games, they’re exercises,” she said. “Exercises are tedious and boring. People need the discipline of a group setting.”
SDCE is the only place in the world offering Posit Science Brain Fitness classes. Classes are held at the Ray & Joan Kroc Community Center, 6845 University Ave. in the Rolando neighborhood of San Diego, right on the La Mesa border. To enroll in brain training, visit bit.ly/2goC5uW.
For more information on brain training, visit brainhq.com.
—Sara Appel-Lennon is a creative writing instructor, children’s author and a former professional clown. Her website is sara-appel-lennon.vpweb.com