How NeoCORTA Promotes Older Adult Brain Health

Friday, July 16th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

In the interview segments presented below, Kathryn Thomas, PhD, NeoCORTA’s Director of Business Development, provides additional information for SFA members and Experience! readers.

SFA: Can you supply more details about the assessment process and how it works in practice?

NeoCORTA: In recent years, scientists have conducted hundreds of studies to better understand the key drivers of change in the human brain. Most of us are curious about our brain health and would like to identify the steps we can take to maintain or improve it. But until now, there has never been a practical or reliable way to measure and manage how we think and feel.

NeoCORTA empowers adults with the tools they need to measure, maintain, and improve their brain fitness. Designed by a Harvard-trained doctor, our service enables individuals to determine their baseline, identify their risk factors, and design a brain fitness action plan that fits their unique needs, goals, and preferences.

The process is actually quite simple for the user. Each person completes an internet-based questionnaire that explores the 32 key variables that define and influence how we think and feel. The questionnaire is self-paced, but most people complete it in 20 to 40 minutes. A few days after completing the questionnaire, each person receives his or her Personal Brain Fitness Report via email. This 12-page report summarizes the person’s current status and explains any noteworthy risk factors. It also provides a carefully tailored list of the critical few actions that are most likely to help the person achieve his or her brain fitness goals. The report explains everything in plain English, so it’s easy to understand and take action.

SFA: Please share a couple of hypothetical examples showing how the process can benefit mature adults.

NeoCORTA: Generally speaking, the Brain Fitness Check-up provides several important benefits: It introduces folks to the key measures of brain fitness; it allows them to track their abilities over time; and it provides the unbiased, expert direction they need in order to enjoy happier, more productive lives. But since the recommendations are tailored to each person’s goals, needs, and preferences, the specific benefits can vary significantly.

For example, imagine the case of a 50 year old woman who currently has satisfactory scores on all of the key measures of brain fitness. Imagine, though, that she is also living the lifestyle of a typical "couch potato": physically inactive, overweight, socially isolated, and mentally understimulated.This person would learn that her current lifestyle is creating significant long-term risks in memory, attention, and other key measures of cognition. To address these risks, her action plan might recommend that she sign up for a group aerobics class — a heart-healthy, mentally challenging activity that’s done with others who can help to encourage her. The plan might also encourage her to do some volunteer work, adopt the "Mediterranean" diet, and work more closely with her doctor to control her cholesterol and blood pressure.

For this woman, the key benefit of using NeoCORTA’s service is a reduced risk of future decline, achieved through the adoption of a heart-healthy (and therefore brain-healthy) lifestyle before it’s too late. Most folks are already aware of the physical downsides of living life as a couch potato. But studies have shown that most adults age 50-plus care more about their brains than their bodies. So NeoCORTA’s service uses this woman’s curiosity about her brain health to provide the extra motivation she needs to take action.

Now compare that woman’s circumstances to the case of a 71 year old retired engineer who lives in an "active adult" retirement community. This man remains socially engaged through a large group of friends and organized events in his community. He experiences chronic pain due to a few nagging sports injuries, but he is in excellent overall health and walks two to four miles each morning. This individual’s results indicate that he currently has minor deficits in attention, stress, anxiety, and emotional control. The results also indicate that he is not sleeping well and that his level of alcohol consumption might be adversely affecting both his current and future brain health.

In this case, the man’s action plan might suggest replacing some of his daily walks with a meditative yoga class. Like walking, yoga provides beneficial physical exercise, but the right class can also address his chronic pain, attention, stress, anxiety, and emotional control. Progress in these areas would be expected to help with his sleep problems, but this action plan would also include a list of additional suggestions for improving the quality of the man’s sleep. And finally, the plan would encourage the man to reduce his alcohol intake, an effort that would probably become easier as he addresses his pain, stress, anxiety, and sleep problems.

In this case, a generally motivated person learns that a few specific adjustments can help to address a shortlist of immediate needs. Though he would not normally consider an activity such as yoga, he is convinced to give it a try by the personalized, evidence-based justification provided in the report. In the end, the key benefit for this person is a noticeable near-term improvement in quality of life.

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