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Can Brain Fitness Innovation Enhance Cognitive Rehab and Driving Safety?

Today we share must-read insights from  Katherine Sullivan, Director of the Brain Fitness Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and Peter Kissinger, President of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Both of them will discuss their ongoing work and lessons learned at the upcom­ing 2011 Sharp­Brains Sum­mit (March 30th — April 1st, 2011). The interviews below were conducted via email.

Katherine Sullivan is the Director of the Brain Fitness Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

1. Katherine, how would you define “brain fit­ness” vs. “phys­i­cal fit­ness”?

In our context (helping active duty service members and veterans recover from cognitive dysfunction most associated with traumatic brain injury), I’d say brain fitness is the outcome we work towards: the cognitive resources required to return to duty or reintegrate into daily and professional lives as much as possible. In this sense, it’s related to the physical health of the brain but has mental elements as well. As far as the relationship between the two, I’m in an unusual position, having the honor to work with some of the most physically fit men and women in our country, who also have the self-discipline to dedicate themselves towards overcoming longer-term challenges.

2. Where do you see a sig­nif­i­cant oppor­tu­nity for brain fit­ness inno­va­tion to improve the lives of a large num­ber of peo­ple in the next decade?

To help us reach many more people who need cognitive rehab, by automating aspects both of the assessments and therapies we offer. We have seen that computerized programs can greatly complement our in-center work, delivering a true continuum of care in a cost-efficient manner – we can, for example, assign and monitor “training homework” in a way we couldn’t before. Computer-training can help provide the intense dosage required for real change while the therapist can focus on compensatory strategies, coping mechanisms, and the translation of therapeutic goals to real-world outcomes.

3. What is one big chal­lenge in the way?

I see two main challenges facing brain-fitness programs in the rehabilitation world: Clinical acceptance leading to insurance coverage for its use in therapy, and the overall ability of cognitive rehab specialist to embrace computer programs. It is important that brain-fitness innovation be viewed as an adjunct and compliment to the services therapists provide, and not as a replacement of the individual therapist.

4. What are your main activ­i­ties in the field and where can peo­ple learn more?

I am currently working for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury; for more information, they have this excellent website. We have created a Brain Fitness Center (BFC) inside the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed, as an adjunct to existing cognitive treatment services in speech pathology and occupational therapy. You can learn more about the BFC here and here.

Brief bio: Kate Sul­li­van, Direc­tor of the Brain Fit­ness Cen­ter, Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter. Kate Sul­li­van M.S., CCC-SLP, CBIS com­pleted her under­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate degrees in Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Sci­ences and Dis­or­ders at James Madi­son Uni­ver­sity. She has been a speech-language pathol­o­gist at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter for 10 years where she recently helped launch the Brain Fit­ness Cen­ter (BFC), located in the WRAMC’s Mil­i­tary Advanced Train­ing Cen­ter, to com­ple­ment tra­di­tional care approaches.

Peter Kissinger is the Pres­i­dent and CEO of the AAA Foun­da­tion for Traf­fic Safety.

1. Peter, how would you define “brain fit­ness” vs. “phys­i­cal fit­ness”?

I would say that brain fitness is a subset of physical fitness, and also, that brain fitness is quite analogous to the traditional definition of physical health.  Use it or lose it applies to both.

2. Where do you see a sig­nif­i­cant oppor­tu­nity for brain fit­ness inno­va­tion to improve the lives of a large num­ber of peo­ple in the next decade?

Extending the safe driving experience for millions of older drivers across the globe.

3. What is one big chal­lenge in the way?

Promoting and marketing the brain training tools, recognizing it will be competing with an enormous amount of information bombarding all individuals.

4. What are your main activ­i­ties in the field and where can peo­ple learn more?

People can learn more about the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety here and about the innovative driving safety initiative here.

Brief bio: Peter Kissinger, Pres­i­dent and CEO of the AAA Foun­da­tion for Traf­fic Safety. Kissinger spent 12 years with the National Trans­porta­tion Safety Board (NTSB) in Wash­ing­ton, DC, first as a safety spe­cial­ist and then as its man­ag­ing direc­tor. He served on a team of tech­ni­cal experts that inves­ti­gated crash sites, stud­ied high­way safety and reg­u­la­tory pro­grams, and rep­re­sented the NTSB before Con­gress. Kissinger has a Master’s degree in oper­a­tions research from the George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity and a Bachelor’s degree in engi­neer­ing from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

In case you missed it, you can also read last week’s First Part of New Interview Series: Why Care About Brain Fitness Innovation?

To Learn more and Register: click on 2011 SharpBrains Summit. Remember that we offer friends of SharpBrains a 15% discount using discount code: sharp2011

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3 Responses

  1. Steven | TEM says:

    Lots of great perspective and information. I think there will be an increase in marketing for brain fitness once more people realize just how beneficial it is. As Kissinger mentions, the mind is just like a muscle – “use it or lose it.”

  2. sandra barbee says:

    I am 75 and for the last 5 years I have been doing brain training on the internet, nintendo, and luminosity, plus whatever else I might find along the way.
    I want a job in this field.
    I am educated(A Masters Degree in Administrative Nursing) and have years and years of experience working with people.
    Cordially,
    Sandra Higgins Barbee
    San Clemente, CA 92672-3237
    949-498-0067

  3. Sophie says:

    Thanks for sharing. It is indeed very informative. I believe that everyone needs Brain Fitness. Our everyday lives is swept away with stress, dealing with problems and pre-occupied with various happenings. Sometimes, we experience trauma/ If we are not able to deal with life’s challenges, how can we able to cope up? Just like how can we drive our own life safely?

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