Use it or you lose it. That’s the customary advice for developing and maintaining brain power. And the first thing people think of is crossword puzzles. The benefits of performing crossword puzzles can increase memory, vocabulary, and concentration. By solving crossword puzzles you’ll gradually begin to strengthen your intellect. But can intellect help my 92-year-old grandfather avoid the weekly collisions en route to the supermarket or doctor’s office? He can whip off the answers to the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in an hour but he’s very close to losing his license, i.e. wheels, freedom, self-esteem, etc, not to mention the potentially unlucky people traveling on the road at the same time. Plus, how is a crossword puzzle going to improve my grandfather’s UFOV?

UFOV is an acronym for Useful Field of View. It’s the area from which one can obtain visual information in a brief glance without head or eye movement, like a spotlight of vision. A person’s UFOV can shrink with age due to poor vision, difficulty dividing attention and/or ignoring distraction, and slower processing ability. UFOV performance is associated with a number of important real-world functions like the risk of automobile crash. For instance, a person might not see a child running into the street early enough to brake. Yikes, Grandad, what are we going to do for you?

The Iowa Healthy and Active Minds Study (IHAMS) led by principal investigator Dr. Fred Wolinsky from the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa, recently presented its interim results at the Gerontological Society of America (GSA)‘s 64th Annual Scientific Meeting in Boston. In a nutshell, it showed that Brain Training Exercises are more effective at improving cognitive function than crossword puzzles. Whether used in a supervised clinical setting, or self-administered at home using the family PC, just 10 hours of use of the brain training software improved cognitive function on several standard neuropsychological tests. Moreover, this study included younger (50-64 year old) and older (65-87 year old) participants, and the brain training software worked equally well for both groups.

According to Dr. Fred Wolinsky, the John W. Colloton Chair in Health Management and Policy, University of Iowa, “There has been debate in the scientific community regarding how well brain training works versus other recreational mental activities, such as learning a new language or doing crossword puzzles. This study clearly demonstrates that the use of specially constructed exercises for the purpose of brain fitness – such as the speed-of-processing core of DriveSharp and InSight – not only work, they are far more effective at improving cognitive function than other games or recreational activities.”

The Road Tour brain training exercise used in IHAMS is one of five exercises of the InSight brain fitness DriveSharp™ software, created by Posit Science, a leading provider of scientifically proven brain fitness programs. The company works with more than 50 scientists from prestigious universities to design and test its computer-based programs and has received grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) along with numerous awards and accolades. The company’s products, scientists and science are currently featured in the PBS documentaries “The Brain Fitness Program” and “Brain Fitness 2.”

Focusing around driving safety, the purpose of InSight is to improve visual capability by speeding up the brain’s ability to process what it sees, and refine visual memory and precision. The format of the Road Tour exercise is a spotlight view of a road trip being driven down Route 66. It works to expand the edges of a user’s UFOV and improving UFOV boosts automobile driving skill and safety.

I know what I’m getting Grandad for Christmas! I just might have to send it to him before he picks me up at the airport.

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