Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

Improving Driving Skills and Brain Functioning- Interview with ACTIVE’s Jerri Edwards

Jerri Edwards- Active trialToday we are for­tu­nate to inter­view Dr. Jer­ri Edwards, an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at Uni­ver­si­ty of South Florida’s School of Aging Stud­ies and Co-Inves­ti­ga­tor of the influ­en­cial ACTIVE study. Dr. Edwards was trained by Dr. Kar­lene K. Ball, and her research is aimed toward dis­cov­er­ing how cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties can be main­tained and even enhanced with advanc­ing age.

Main focus of research

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: Please explain to our read­ers your main research areas

Jer­ri Edwards: I am par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in how cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions may help old­er adults to avoid or at least delay func­tion­al dif­fi­cul­ties and there­by main­tain their inde­pen­dence longer. Much of my work has focused on the func­tion­al abil­i­ty of dri­ving includ­ing assess­ing dri­ving fit­ness among old­er adults and reme­di­a­tion of cog­ni­tive decline that results in dri­ving dif­fi­cul­ties.

Some research ques­tions that inter­est me include, how can we main­tain health­i­er lives longer? How can train­ing improve cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, both to improve those abil­i­ties and also to slow-down, or delay, cog­ni­tive decline? The spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty that I have stud­ied the most is pro­cess­ing speed, which is one of the cog­ni­tive skills that decline ear­ly on as we age.

ACTIVE results

Can you explain what cog­ni­tive pro­cess­ing speed is, and why it is rel­e­vant to our dai­ly lives?

Pro­cess­ing speed is men­tal quick­ness. Just like a com­put­er with a 486 proces­sor can do a lot of the same things as a com­put­er with a Pen­tium 4 proces­sor, but it takes much longer, our minds tend to slow down with age as com­pared to when we were younger. We can do the same tasks, but it takes more time. Quick speed of pro­cess­ing is impor­tant for quick deci­sion mak­ing in our dai­ly lives. When you are dri­ving, if some­thing unex­pect­ed hap­pens, how quick­ly can you notice the sit­u­a­tion and decide how to react?

Please describe how the ACTIVE tri­al used the cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­gram, and what the results were found to be when they were pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion in Decem­ber 2006?

I was a co-inves­ti­ga­tor of the ACTIVE study, a mul­ti-site, con­trolled study, with thou­sands of adults over six­ty-five, to eval­u­ate the effec­tive­ness of three dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive train­ing meth­ods with three dif­fer­ent groups:

- The first group used a mem­o­ry train­ing pro­gram includ­ing a vari­ety of tra­di­tion­al mem­o­ry tech­niques such as mnemon­ics and the method of loci.

- The sec­ond group was trained in learn induc­tive rea­son­ing skills.

- The third group was exposed to com­put­er-based pro­grams to train pro­cess­ing speed.

All 3 groups spent the same amount of time in their respec­tive train­ing pro­grams, around 2 hours a week for 5 weeks, going through exer­cis­es of increas­ing dif­fi­cul­ty. The ACTIVE study was designed to track par­tic­i­pants’ per­for­mance over a num­ber of years, so, after this ini­tial 5-week inter­ven­tion, some groups received train­ing boost­er ses­sions, after 1 year and again after 3 years.

Willis and col­leagues pub­lished the 5-year results in JAMA last Decem­ber and the results were very pos­i­tive. All 3 types of cog­ni­tive pro­grams were shown to have an effect imme­di­ate­ly after the pro­gram, after 3 years, and after 5. But, the results of the group that used a com­put­er-based pro­gram to train pro­cess­ing speed showed clear short-term and long-term results. Indi­vid­u­als who expe­ri­enced improved speed of pro­cess­ing also showed bet­ter per­for­mance on tasks of instru­men­tal activ­i­ties of dai­ly liv­ing such as quick­ly find­ing an item on a crowd­ed pantry shelf and read­ing med­ica­tion bot­tles. They also react­ed to road signs more quick­ly. We found this trans­fer of train­ing in our pri­or stud­ies using the train­ing pro­to­col as well.

In short, sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­ages of the par­tic­i­pants improved their mem­o­ry, rea­son­ing and infor­ma­tion-pro­cess­ing speed across all three meth­ods. The most impres­sive result was that, when test­ed five years lat­er, the par­tic­i­pants in the com­put­er-based pro­gram had less of a decline in the skill they were trained in than did a con­trol group that received no cog­ni­tive train­ing.

Clar­i­fy­ing con­fu­sion

The results of the ACTIVE study were quite impres­sive and con­tributed in large part to the amount of media cov­er­age about brain fit­ness last year. How­ev­er, as you have prob­a­bly seen, there is a good deal of con­fu­sion about brain fit­ness among the media and the pub­lic at large. Can you help our read­ers under­stand two com­mon ques­tions: 1) Why are new pro­grams bet­ter than, say, doing cross­words puz­zles?, and 2) Can one real­ly say that these pro­grams can reverse age-relat­ed decline?

To answer the first ques­tion, I would say that a cross­word puz­zle is not a form of cog­ni­tive train­ing. It can be stim­u­lat­ing, but it is not a form of struc­tured men­tal exer­cise that has been shown to improve spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive skills — oth­er than the skill of doing cross­word puz­zles, of course.

In terms of the sec­ond ques­tion, it is too ear­ly to say whether we can real­ly reverse decline in a per­ma­nent way. There are many skills involved and the stud­ies are not long enough to real­ly com­pare dif­fer­ent tra­jec­to­ries. What we can say is that by doing some exer­cis­es, one can improve cog­ni­tive speed of pro­cess­ing by 146–250%, and that a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of that improve­ment stays even after 5 years. We can­not say more defin­i­tive­ly.

But I think it is note­wor­thy to be able to say that, in all of the pro­grams test­ed, the pay­off from cog­ni­tive train­ing, or what we can call “men­tal exer­cise”, seemed far greater than we are accus­tomed to get­ting from phys­i­cal exer­cise. Just imag­ine if you could say that 10 hours of work­outs at the gym every day this month was enough to help keep you fit five years from now.

Now, the pro­gram used is not ful­ly auto­mat­ed, cor­rect? It required the inter­ven­tion of a trained per­son to cal­i­brate the pro­gram at the right lev­el of dif­fi­cul­ty.

That is cor­rect.

Dri­ving-relat­ed per­for­mance

Anoth­er fas­ci­nat­ing study that you pub­lished as a co-author in Human Fac­tors (2003), applied the same com­put­er-based pro­gram to improv­ing the dri­ving-relat­ed men­tal skills of old­er adults. Can you explain that study?

Sure. Our goal was to train what is called the “use­ful field of view.” The use­ful field of view is a mea­sure of pro­cess­ing speed and visu­al atten­tion that is crit­i­cal for dri­ving per­for­mance, and one of the areas that declines with age. It has pre­vi­ous­ly been shown that this skill can be improved with train­ing, so we want­ed to see what effect it would have on the dri­ving per­for­mance of old­er adults, and whether the train­ing would be more or less effec­tive than a tra­di­tion­al dri­ving sim­u­la­tion course.

For the study, we divid­ed forty-eight adults over fifty-five years old into two inter­ven­tion groups of twen­ty-four peo­ple each. Each group received twen­ty hours of train­ing. One group was exposed to a tra­di­tion­al dri­ving sim­u­la­tor, where they learned spe­cif­ic dri­ving behav­iours. The oth­er one went through the cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­gram.

Both groups’ dri­ving per­for­mance improved right after their respec­tive pro­grams, but most ben­e­fits of the dri­ving sim­u­la­tor dis­ap­peared by month eigh­teen.

The speed-of-pro­cess­ing inter­ven­tion helped par­tic­i­pants not only improve “use­ful field of view,” the skill that was direct­ly trained, but it also trans­ferred into real-life dri­ving, and the results were sus­tained after 18 months. And, by the way, the eval­u­a­tion was as real as one can imag­ine: a 14-mile open road eval­u­a­tion.

Faster speed-of-pro­cess­ing seemed to enable adults to react bet­ter to unex­pect­ed events that require a fast response and to reduce by 40% the num­ber of dan­ger­ous manoeu­vres on real roads (defined as those that required the train­ing instruc­tor to inter­vene dur­ing the eval­u­a­tion).

The Future

Research like this seems to present major oppor­tu­ni­ties for soci­ety. For exam­ple, wouldn’t insur­ance com­pa­nies, or the AARP, want to spon­sor more research and eval­u­ate whether to offer this type of train­ing to their mem­bers? Won’t major employ­ers see oppor­tu­ni­ties to improve the per­for­mance of old­er employ­ees by iden­ti­fy­ing the cog­ni­tive skills that may need the most improve­ment and offer­ing tai­lored train­ing? We could spec­u­late that a per­son with faster pro­cess­ing abil­i­ties will also be able to make faster deci­sions and learn faster…

That makes sense, based on what we know. Cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties evolve in dif­fer­ent ways as we age, and some typ­i­cal­ly start to decline in our thir­ties. Cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions may help train and improve those abil­i­ties, and there is already research that strong­ly indi­cates where and how train­ing can be use­ful. More research is still required to deliv­er more pre­cise and tai­lored inter­ven­tions in a vari­ety of envi­ron­ments. I sus­pect we will see the field grow sig­nif­i­cant­ly — and not just for aging-relat­ed pri­or­i­ties. Cog­ni­tive train­ing may become use­ful for a vari­ety of health con­di­tions, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients, for exam­ple. More research will help researchers refine assess­ments and train­ing pro­grams.

Ref­er­ences

- Edwards, J.D., Ross, L.A., Clay, O.C., Wadley, V.G., Crowe, M., Roenker, D.L. & Ball, K.K. (2006). The Use­ful Field of View test: Nor­ma­tive data. Archives of Clin­i­cal Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy, 21: 275–286

- Ball, K.K., Roenker, D., Wadley, V.G., Edwards, J.D., Roth, D.L., McG­win, G. M., Raleigh, R., Joyce, J., & Cis­sell, G.M. & Dube, T. (2006). Can high-risk old­er dri­vers be iden­ti­fied through per­for­mance-based mea­sures in a depart­ment of motor vehi­cles set­ting? Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Geri­atrics Soci­ety, 54: 77–84.

- Roenker, D., Cis­sell, G., Ball, K., Wadley, V., & Edwards, J. (2003). Speed of pro­cess­ing and dri­ving sim­u­la­tor train­ing result in improved dri­ving per­for­mance. Human Fac­tors, 45: 218–233.

- Jobe, J.B., Smith, D.M., Ball, K., Tennst­edt, S. L., Mar­siske, M., Willis, S.L., Rebok, G.W., Mor­ris, J.N., Helmers, K.F., Lev­eck, M.D., Klein­man, K. ACTIVE: A cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tion trail to pro­mote inde­pen­dence in old­er adults. Con­trol Clin­i­cal Tri­als, 2001, 22(4): 453–479.

- Edwards, J., Wadley, V., Myers, R., Ball, K., Roenker, D., & Cis­sell, G. (2002). Trans­fer of a speed of pro­cess­ing inter­ven­tion to near and far cog­ni­tive func­tions. Geron­tol­ogy, 48: 329–340.

- Edwards, J.D., Wadley, V.G., Vance, D.E., Wood, K.M., Roenker, D.L., & Ball, K.K. (2005). The impact of speed of pro­cess­ing train­ing on cog­ni­tive and every­day per­for­mance. Aging & Men­tal Health, 9: 262–271.

Cred­it for pic: Den­nis Keim dk-stu­dio

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

13 Responses

  1. George says:

    Are there any com­mer­cial­ly avail­able pro­grams avail­able to train cog­ni­tive pro­cess­ing speed?

  2. Michael Cole says:

    Great inter­view!

    George, there are a lot of pro­grams that work on pro­cess­ing speed with­in a larg­er frame­work

  3. Mike Scanlon says:

    Jer­ri, I’ve read sev­er­al of your papers on train­ing visu­al atten­tion and pro­cess­ing speed — thanks for your impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions to the field.

    George, I work on an online train­ing pro­gram designed to improve pro­cess­ing speed, as well as mem­o­ry and atten­tion. There’s a free tri­al at Lumosity.com

  4. Roy Israely says:

    George.
    If you are look­ing for a great soft­ware that improves pro­cess­ing speed, as well as oth­er dri­ving- relat­ed cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, I would sug­gest Dri­ve­Fit. You can read some details at: http://www.cognifit.com

  5. Laura Fay says:

    George — Hap­py Neu­ron offers cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams for atten­tion and visu­al-spa­tial skills, the key brain func­tions that impor­tant in Dri­ving — pro­cess­ing speed (aka reac­tion time), land­mark iden­ti­fi­ca­tion & nav­i­ga­tion, etc.
    Train­ing pro­grams have been pro­vid­ed to cor­po­ra­tions specif­i­cal­ly for dri­ver fleet train­ing. Vis­it http://www.happy-neuron.com to expe­ri­ence these cog­ni­tive train­ing tools.

  6. Jason says:

    For the last few years I have been doing lots of “fact find­ing” with regards to brain fitness/health. One piece I recent­ly came across, with regards to Dr. Ball , was this:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS109321+14-Jan-2008+PRN20080114

    This “team up” if you will, could be a great thing for peo­ple who want pro­grams with real sci­ence behind them.

    Keep up the great inter­views Alvaro.

  7. Alvaro says:

    Thank you all for your con­tri­bu­tions.

    George, you could try a few of the pro­grams men­tioned here. Anoth­er one, focused on audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing, is Posit Sci­ence. Phys­i­cal exer­cise has also been shown to improve reac­tion time, as well as med­i­ta­tion. There are no uni­ver­sal “pre­scrip­tions” yet, but dif­fer­ent tools most appro­pri­ate to our spe­cif­ic con­texts. That’s why we rec­om­mend you use our check­list
    /wp-content/uploads/2007/05/sharpbrains_checklist.pdf

    Jason, thanks for the encour­age­ment. I am sure your “fact find­ing” has been more in-depth than the one reflect­ed in the press release you link to…(a very inter­est­ing devel­op­ment indeed, that in fact we blogged about last month), but it los­es cred­i­bil­i­ty when it opens with the fac­tu­al­ly incor­rect “Only com­pa­nies with sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly proven train­ing pro­grams that improve men­tal func­tion…”

    Please take a look at my inter­views with Torkel Kling­berg and Daniel Gopher, for exam­ple. And please let us know of inter­est­ing devel­op­ments you see in the field! What is your moti­va­tion to fol­low Dr. Ball’s research/ what do you work on?

  8. Hi folks,

    The speed of pro­cess­ing train­ing pro­gram Dr. Edwards refers to is a very spe­cif­ic train­ing pro­gram with a num­ber of detailed tech­ni­cal require­ments. The design is cov­ered by sev­er­al issued US patents.

    With all due respect to the com­ments men­tion­ing Lumos­i­ty, Cog­nifit, and Hap­py Neu­ron, only the spe­cif­ic speed of pro­cess­ing train­ing pro­gram described by Dr. Edwards has been demon­strat­ed to improve instru­men­tal activ­i­ties of dai­ly liv­ing and reduce risks of func­tion­al decline over time. The train­ing pro­grams from Lumos­i­ty, Cog­nit­fit, and Hap­py Neu­ron have not been shown to have those effects; and in fact Dr. Edwards’ and Dr. Ball’s research shows that their pos­i­tive results are quite spe­cif­ic to that speed of pro­cess­ing train­ing pro­gram. There’s no par­tic­u­lar rea­son to think that those var­i­ous oth­er train­ing pro­grams will have those ben­e­fi­cial effects; and if their devel­op­ers think they might they should invest the time and hard work in doc­u­ment­ing those effects as Dr. Edwards and Dr. Ball have.

    The speed of pro­cess­ing train­ing pro­gram described by Dr. Edwards was acquired by Posit Sci­ence, and a ful­ly-updat­ed ver­sion includ­ing a num­ber of addi­tion­al visu­al train­ing exer­cis­es will be launched in March.

    Best regards,
    Hen­ry

    Vice Pres­i­dent of Research & Out­comes
    Posit Sci­ence

  9. Alvaro says:

    Hen­ry, thank you for your com­ment. It adds good con­text, and does well in encour­ag­ing more com­pa­nies invest in good research. It also rais­es sev­er­al ques­tions that I’d love you to address:

    1- Com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing has been around for a while, with a vari­ety of approach­es. You may also have read my inter­views with Daniel Gopher and Torkel Kling­berg, for exam­ple. It would be high­ly sur­pris­ing to learn that some of the require­ments to make it work have been patent­ed, as you seem to imply.

    2- It is pub­lic infor­ma­tion that Posit Sci­ence has been work­ing on a visu­al pro­cess­ing pro­gram for over a year. And this acqui­si­tion just hap­pened. So the obvi­ous ques­tions are a) how are you going to inte­grate 2 dif­fer­ent prod­ucts and approach­es, b) and in such a short time­frame, by March?

    3- In fact, more research will be need­ed to show the effi­ca­cy of what­ev­er you launch in March, which is not the same that has been used in the ACTIVE and oth­er tri­als.

    4- May I sug­gest, to you and all oth­er devel­op­ers, that we need to see more sol­id con­trols? watch­ing some edu­ca­tion­al DVDs is not the best high-qual­i­ty con­trol that will allow you to claim your cog­ni­tive train­ing has been shown to be bet­ter than oth­er cog­ni­tive train­ing prod­ucts, sim­ply that cog­ni­tive train­ing itself works.

    Thank you

  10. ddriving says:

    From Michael: Learn­ing-to-process games could be fun I sup­pose but are spec­u­la­tors going any far­ther? Is any one design­ing real world brain input learn­ing in dri­ving, e.g., or oth­er fields? Thanks

  11. The only cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­gram that I know of which has been proven effec­tive through research to enhance both cog­ni­tion and every­day func­tion­ing, includ­ing dri­ving is now owned and marked by Posit Sci­ence as InSight. I would love to receive pub­lished research on the effec­tive­ness of any of the oth­er pro­grams men­tioned. The evi­dence that this pro­gram enhances dri­ving is increas­ing and was recent­ly pre­sent­ed at the Trans­porta­tion Research Board meet­ing in 2009.

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Health & Wellness, Neuroscience Interview Series, Professional Development, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

Follow us and Engage via…

twitter_logo_header
RSS Feed

Search for anything brain-related in our article archives