There is so much research today regarding the benefits of training your brain. Research is identifying more graceful aging as well as longer life spans as the result of continually exercising the brain. Even a small amount of time spent engaged in some type of mental activity has been found to be a protective mechanism for graceful aging to prevent or promote less decline from dementia. One recent study found that each day spent in using the brain for some type of thinking activity delayed the beginning of memory decline.
The brain training program we employ at United Psychological Services consists of an individually designed treatment program to re-train specific brain processes; primarily the memory, visual perceptual and executive reasoning processes. While the use of IM (Interactive Metronome) to treat ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) helps as the beginning of any treatment/rehabilitation program to address brain issues or dementia, it does not specifically address the memory and frontal processes. Through the last ten years of working with brain rehabilitation programs, we may combine the two programs or use the brain training and not the IM depending upon the results of the neuropsychological evaluation. Each brain training plan is highly individualized and based upon the neuropsychological evaluation completed prior to training. At our facility generally no one starts a brain training program without prior testing because otherwise we would be unable to devise a training program to meet each person’s specific needs.
The brain training addresses; visual spatial, visual perceptual, memory and executive reasoning processes. It is specifically designed to meet the individual needs of each person as test results determine how often the person needs training as well as the type of training and target goals.
The brain training consists of a computer program as well as hands on activities and games specifically designed to address the following cognitive deficits:
- Selective attention, attending to the irrelevant
- Perseveration or getting stuck
- Problem solving, solution generation
- Abstract reasoning
- Sequential analysis
- Cognitive or thinking rigidity
- Decision making
- Word retrieval
- Memory processes of registration, storage and retrieval
- Visual organization
- Visual spatial and visual perceptual processes
Pre and post-testing completed thus far, specifically assessing the brain training program reveals improved memory using repeated testing over time. In individuals diagnosed with dementia and/or a brain injury show improvement on testing completed after training portions to their evaluation prior to training. There was evidence of improved functioning even if the neurological problem remained untreated or still in process of being diagnosed. Reports received from spouses and parents indicate improved functioning on the part of the child, adult or senior. Improved memory functioning is frequently reported regarding the day to day activities of recalling appointments, remembering tasks to do during the day or items at the grocery store. Parents indicate improved performance in school, ability to learn and retain learning new concepts presented in class as well as more appropriate behavior.
We have countless stories of improved functioning of young children, adolescents and adults who continue to reveal improvement through time.
We saw a girl aged 13 years over the summer months. The family who came from quite a distance stayed in our area for two months to do the brain training in addition to other programs offered in our facility. In speaking with her parents recently, we learned that three years later she has continued to make progress and her functioning in school as well as in life has been significantly improved. Another girl came from Alaska to have training during several summers and today she is successfully attending college.
One woman who had two major brain injuries, the last occurring when she was in her fifties, made significant progress despite the presence of serious and repeated brain injury. Repeated memory testing revealed the gains made in her learning, showing both improved memory as well as the successful use of memory strategies.
Although we teach skills and the use of specific strategies at United Psychological Services, the goal is for these changes to become ingrained in the brain. In other words, the person naturally or inherently uses the strategies they have been taught as opposed to having to think about implementing specifically learned steps. We work on making changes to the brain that last through time.
The brain training program has been particularly effective with the aged population. There is so much research today measuring the positive effects of brain training. A little goes a long way. People have used the brain training during times of stress when they have suddenly become a full time caretaker for their spouse. The brain training helps people to remain alert as a means of not falling victim to the depression related to being a full time caretaker for their loved one. People report a sense of control to offset the helpless feelings that stem from taking care of someone who is terminally ill.
Brain training is helpful for those diagnosed with dementia; the sooner the training, the more positive the effects. One man who started the program at the age of 82 years when he found himself with some minor memory difficulties continued with brain training for five years. During that time he managed to continue to function effectively despite the emotional losses of a move from his long term home to another state, the surprising death of his wife, as well as his own diagnosis of severe sleep apnea and ongoing cardiovascular disease. Continued evaluation revealed that he did not suffer losses due to these issues and even continued to show improvement from the brain training.
To date, our brain training program offered at United Psychological Services is one of the few programs that provide unique exercises and training for the brain. We use a combination of programs developed by other people as well as our own uniquely designed activities and games. There are continual updates to our materials and we routinely meet to discuss brain training options. Repeated testing answers the question of whether the training is addressing the areas needed. So the program is constantly changing depending upon how the individual is doing and what their specific needs are. The key here is continual evaluation to see if improvement is occurring as well as individually designed training programs and continually updated and re-designed materials. Our efforts never stop and we are proud to report significant success.
One last example: We have been seeing a man who had a stroke when he was in his early 50’s. Today he is 62 years of age and still going strong. Repeated testing has not resulted in a diagnosis of dementia although his stroke would certainly have placed him at risk. We credit the brain training and the hard work of this man and his spouse that today years after the stroke he has successfully avoided the dementia diagnosis. Testing recently reported average scores on memory measures where he has been continually impaired. His wife reports improved functioning at home. We alter his training program every three months and more recently are working on card playing and good social conversation.
Our current focus is on developing tools to work with the executive reasoning programs which have proven more difficult than the memory of visual perceptual training. This is due to a number of reasons; the primary one being that the executive processes represent the highest level of brain functioning and the most complex. We have developed and are in the process of developing tools to address social and emotional difficulties for both children and adults as well as specific deficits of integration, problems with sequencing, attending to the irrelevant, perseveration (becoming stuck) poor problem solving and mental rigidity.