Calisthenics for aging brains
S.F. firm develops software to improve mental agility
The San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, April 4, 2005
Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer
... Posit Science says its brain-training program takes a more rigorous approach, backed by scientific research.
Posit co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Michael Merzenich, a professor of neuroscience at UCSF, has spent more than 30 years researching brain plasticity.
"The brain is just as deserving of a workout as the body," he said in a presentation to a national conference on aging last month. "The brain needs progressively challenging learning that is intensive, effortful and repetitive. "
That premise underlies Posit's approach to cognitive calisthenics.
Posit scientists created exercises to stimulate specific brain functions. Then its video game designers turned them into computer games, complete with a couple of animated coaches to give tips and rewards like amusing pictures when players complete tasks.
The company says one key to brain rejuvenation is that the exercises become more difficult as players progress so they're always working at a threshold of intensity.
"As we age, things get 'noisier.' Information from our senses is less reliable and processed less well," said Posit co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Zimman. "The systems in the brain get sluggish. We're trying to improve the ability to accurately process signals (such as incoming verbal information), increase speed and stimulate the machinery to produce key brain chemicals."
Posit started just 18 months ago but already has 53 issued patents, almost all for Merzenich's inventions. (He's a member of the National Academy of Sciences whose credits also include being on the team that invented the cochlear implant in the late 1980s.) Posit licensed many of them from Scientific Learning, an Oakland company Merzenich founded in 1996 that makes software to teach language and reading skills to K-12 students.
Posit has raised $7.2 million in venture capital and is seeking more funding.
The software isn't quite ready for prime time. Posit hopes to release the first module, which is focused on hearing, by the end of the year. Future modules will address eyesight, problem solving and multitasking, motor control, and balance and mobility.
Pricing will vary from less than $50 to $1,000 depending on intensity levels and other factors. Zimman said he envisions senior residences and other facilities buying site licenses to set up cognitive fitness centers, or "brain gyms."
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