After Brain Injuries, Troops Hit The Mental Gym
May 12, 2011
Working Your Brain To The Limit
The brain fitness programs are a lot like physical rehabilitation, says Katherine Sullivan, a speech pathologist who directs the Brain Fitness Center. The idea is to work your brain to the limit, she says.
“Just like going to a gym, you could stay here for 30 minutes and not really get a great workout,” she says. “But sometimes if you push yourself to that threshold that’s ideal and optimal for training, you’re going to see more benefit.”
But scientists caution that brain training remains experimental.
“These training programs are a work in progress,” says Michael Merzenich, a professor emeritus and neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. Merzenich is also a co-founder of Posit Science, a company that makes one of the brain training programs used at Walter Reed and other military and veterans hospitals.
Merzenich says he is confident that brain training, like physical training, is doing something.
“That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be in the tip-top shape they were in before they went over to Afghanistan,” he says. “But most of these people can be substantially better.”
However, the effectiveness of most brain training programs hasn’t been tested scientifically on normal brains, let alone injured ones, Merzenich says.
There are studies under way at Walter Reed and other institutions. The goal is to find out just how much difference a particular program makes and how it compares with other programs, Merzenich says.
“You don’t just evaluate whether or not they improve in the specific task you’re training them on,” Merzenich says. “Of course they improve at those.
The question is whether they improve in their general abilities that reflect their capacities, their operational abilities in everyday life. Because if you don’t improve that, you’ve done nothing useful.”