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Cognition-challenging computer game can reduce health costs in elderly

BY ALINA RUBEZHOVA | JULY 13, 2009 7:15 AM

A recent study shows a computer program that improves cognitive abilities in the elderly helps keep them safer and reduces how much they must pay for medical care.

Fredric Wolinsky, a UI professor of health management and policy who led the research team, said the goal of the study was to find out if the interactive game could delay the onset of cognitive decline in adults 65 and older, especially as they related to such daily activities as balancing a checkbook or going shopping.

The research — part of a trial known as the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly — was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study was released online in BMC Health Services Research on June 29.

This study aimed to preserve three aspects of cognition: memory, reasoning, and speed of processing. Scientists focused on helping the elderly remember what they own, reason with serial thinking patterns, and improve processing speed.

Wolinsky said increasing speed of processing had the greatest effect on medical costs. The specific computer program used in the study — InSight — helped test this factor.

One of the games — Road Tour — presents players with simulated driving distractions.

“If you think of driving in older adults, the large problem is their focus is pretty much straight ahead of what’s going on,” Wolinsky said.

The program helps combat the problem. The “driver” is surrounded by objects and distractions such as road signs and rabbits that pop out around his or her car. The driver must also identify them.

The program increases the amount of distractions over time and widens a person’s “useful field of view,” or the area a person can take in with a single glance.

San Francisco-based Posit Science sells these programs, set in a game-like format and installable in any computer, for roughly $400.

But it could be a worthy investment, research shows. For patients, this helps decrease annual predicted medical costs. The onset of cognitive restraints results in the increased use of health services, such as medical care after car accidents, thus increasing medical costs, according to the UI press release.

The findings could be important in Iowa, where adults 65 and older composed 15 percent of the population in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, that age group makes up 13 percent of the population.

“If all older adults on Medicare were exposed to speed of processing, we’d be able to reduce Medicare expenditures by about 3.3 percent every year,” said Wolinsky, noting that there are roughly 40 million Medicare patients nationally.


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