August 3, 2006
An Israeli Workout for the Brain
What do limousine drivers, breast cancer patients and retirees have in common? They're all the beneficiaries of the applications developed by CogniFit, an Israeli company.
CogniFit creates state-of-the-art applications that assess, train and enhance cognitive and psychomotor abilities. It does so by combining the latest discoveries and most up-to-date knowledge about the human brain with advanced technology and communication techniques. Through its applications, CogniFit is on its way to becoming a world leader in the field of cognitive and psychomotor fitness.
According to Yossi Mazal, CogniFit's vice president of marketing, it is as important for people to stimulate and exercise their brains as it is to go to the gym to exercise their bodies if they want to remain in peak condition.
"Our patented technology revolves around research that has shown that the brain possesses some elasticity, and it can be trained to be more flexible," he said. "The brain is like a computer processor -- it receives input through the eyes and ears and reprocesses information regarding everything we do in life," Mazal explained. "Our products can measure a person's ability to process information and how accurately that information is processed. We can then train the brain to reach faster, more accurate decisions."
Using that basic concept, CogniFit has developed a number of products for use on any home computer, even though Mazal says the sky is the limit regarding what can conceivably be developed.
The company's flagship product is MindFit, which is described by the marketing executive as a "fitness room for the brain."
"Every seven seconds, another American turns 50, and we're targeting those 80 million baby boomers," he said. "They're very aware of health, both physical and mental fitness. They're going to live longer, and they want a good quality of life. We give them that possibility through a two- to three-times-a-week workout in front of the computer, which focuses on memory perception and concentration."
MindFit provides users with individually designed exercises that challenge their minds. Mazal said the exercises are challenging but not frustrating, repetitive but not boring, intensive but not tiring, designed to keep adult minds active and vital.
MindFit is already available in Israel, Spain and France, and CogniFit is launching an American version that is available at e-mindfitness.com.
"Our products essentially complement what we do at the gym," said professor Shlomo Breznitz, CogniFit founder and president. "We want to convince people -- particularly older people -- that their minds need to be maintained just like their bodies."
A renowned psychology professor and past president of the University of Haifa, Breznitz was recently elected to the Knesset as a member of the Kadima Party. The company, which began with a handful of employees in a tiny office in the Tzipori industrial area in the Galilee near Nazareth, now employs 35 workers. The first application Breznitz focused CogniFit on was driving. According to Mazal, driving is one of the most difficult tasks, because of both the speed at which drivers are traveling and the amount of information that needs to be processed quickly.
"If a driver is slow to process information, it exposes him to greater risks because he'll be slower to understand road situations," he said.
CogniFit's product, FleetFit, assesses drivers' information-processing capabilities, an assessment which is particularly useful in the insurance industry or with companies that possess large fleets of vehicles and drivers.
"We have a new agreement with risk and safety management company CEI in Philadelphia," Mazal said. "They're used by many of the major pharmaceutical companies who employ great numbers of drivers.
"Now they're offering FleetFit to their clients -- with the purpose being to identify which drivers of a specific fleet are at high risk, or to put it more bluntly: Which drivers are accidents waiting to happen?
"Based on the results, the company can then decide what to do with the driver -- whether it be deciding to send him to a specific training course or replacing him," Mazal said.
As effective as Flee tFit and MindFit have reportedly proven to be, the application believed to have the greatest potential is Cognifit's newest program, Back On Track. The application has been designed specifically for women who have undergone chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer and are experiencing the so-called "chemo fog" associated with cancer treatments.
One recognized possible side effect of chemotherapy is long-term cognitive impairment. Symptoms, in particular memory and concentration problems, are frequently reported by cancer patients treated with chemotherapy, even years after completion of treatment.
Back On Track was developed using patented scientifically based technology that has proven that active training improves the cognitive skills necessary for everyday activities. It includes a variety of tasks that were designed specifically to exercise the basic cognitive skills that are needed for daily functioning.
People experiencing the cogniti ve effects of chemotherapy generally respond very well to focused rehabilitation efforts. Just as a person goes to the gym to keep their body in top shape, the brain needs to be exercised as well. Cognifit said Back On Track will engage the mind by exercising all the major cognitive skills and help to find ways to cope with cognitive deficits.
"While potentially, the treatment is good for people who have undergone chemo for any type of cancer, we're targeting this specific group because of the high awareness of chemo fog among breast cancer patients," said Mazal, adding that the treatment is currently undergoing clinical trials at an Israeli hospital.