USF Researchers' Study Seeks "Brain Fitness" for Elders

TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 3, 2008) – Aging Baby Boomers – members of the generation that values independence – will, over the next two decades, become victims of cognitive decline, limiting their abilities to drive automobiles and take care of themselves. But University of South Florida researchers are working to put the brakes on this scenario.

USF Assistant Professor Jerri D. Edwards and colleagues in the USF School of Aging Studies are conducting a clinical trial to study cognitive decline in order to help make life better for tomorrow's seniors and also provide cognitive training to help today's seniors remain more "brain fit." The trial, called Insight, tests vision, hearing and memory, but also aims at helping seniors retain mental quickness through participation in a computerized training program that in some cases can help boost the brain’s processing speed.

"In past studies, we have shown that cognitive training has the potential to enhance the everyday lives of older adults," said Edwards. "Our current study tests memory, reaction time and visual attention."

Seniors participating in the study at the USF Cognitive Aging Laboratory and at area retirement communities are asked to identify and localize multiple moving objects on a computer screen as well as react to auditory signals. Memory and reaction time are tested as well as visual attention. Results indicate that the tests and training can increase the speed at which the tasks are performed. The testing also identified those at-risk for adverse mobility outcomes.

“An important index of mobility in the U.S. is driving,” said Edwards. “The numbers of licensed drivers over the age of 65 is increasing. Many stop driving for a number of reasons, including cognitive decline and declining vision. However, studies have shown that older adults who stop driving are at greater risk for social isolation, depression, dependency and, ultimately, nursing home placement.”

According to Edwards, cognitive training is a means of prolonging mobility. A series of clinical trials conducted by Edwards and her colleagues has shown that older drivers who complete the program are 40 percent less likely to stop driving over the ensuing three years and are safer on the roads with improved reaction times.

“We have also found that one training session can reverse more than four months of decline,” Edwards said.

Seniors who want to be part of the study may call (813) 974-5592 for consideration.

The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.6 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

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