Aug 27, 2007
By: Alvaro Fernandez
Let’s quickly review 4 recent articles in both “Times” newspapers: the New York Times and the UK-based Times, on brain fitness and a couple of programs.Ã‚Â
1) Calisthenics for the Older Mind, on the Home Computer: good overview of one of the growing areas for cognitive training, “healthy aging”.
- – “In the past year, some half-dozen programs, with names like Brain Fitness Program 2.0, MindFit and Brain Age2, have aimed at aging consumers eager to keep their mental edge.
- – “The scientific evidence for those commercial products is still very weak,” said Timothy A. Salthouse, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia…
- – Recent research in neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to information and new activities — shows that brain cells and new pathways continue to develop throughout life…there is little evidence that such programs offer tangible benefits over learning Spanish or taking up the tango…Ã‚Â
- – The results persuaded Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist, to adopt MindFit as part of the new “brain gym” at the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged, where he is director of mental health services. “For an early study, the data is really promising for individuals with mild memory changes,” he said. “I do want to see more data, but I’m not waiting for that.”
- – Comments:Ã‚Â Ã‚Â True, when some manufacturers make claims that their programs are “scientifically-proven” to do things such as “rejuvenate your brain” 10, 20, 30 years…they are stretching science in ways that may harm not only their own reputation but the overall credibility of the cognitive training field. Having said that, some of the mentioned programs like Posit ScienceÃ‚Â (focused on training auditory processing)Ã‚Â and MindFitÃ‚Â (focused on assessing and training 14 different cognitive skills) have preliminary data that they train and help improve specific skills in ways that it is difficult to believeÃ‚Â that learning Spanish or tango will do (and can someone please show me how learning either can cost $149?). They are not the panacea, but a great complement to a mix of “healthy brain” habits that include good nutrition, physical exercise, stress management and lifelong learning/Ã‚Â mental stimulation.Ã‚Â And, from the data available today, both of those programs work better in their respective areas than Nintendo Brain Age or Dakim, which to the best of our knowledge have not conducted clinical trials.
- – If you want to learn more: check out our program Evaluation Checklist.
2) Top scientist backs workout for the brain: announcement that a respected UK neuroscientist is endorsing one of those programs, MindFit.Ã‚Â
- – Quotes: “Baroness Susan Greenfield, the neuroscientist, is to launch an exercise programme for the brain that she claims is proven to reverse the mental decline associated with ageing…Greenfield, who is also director of the Royal Institution, maintains that Britain’s baby-boomers are discovering that concentrating on physical fitness is no longer sufficient preparation for old age…“What concerns me is preserving the brain too,” she said. “There is now good scientific evidence to show that exercising the brain can slow, delay and protect against age-related decline.”..Greenfield will launch MindFit, a PC-based software program, at the House of Lords next month, for the “worried but well” – people in their middle years who are healthy and want to stay that way.
- – Comments: MindFitÃ‚Â can be a great entry point for people who want a quite comprehensive software-based brain fitness program. We are impressed to see that someone of Greenfield’s reputation is now endorsing it. Now, remember, what tool -if any- may be helpful for each person depends on one’s context and priorities.Ã‚Â
- – If you want to learn more: check some of MindFit Demos
3) Mind Over Matter, With a Machine’s Help: great article on aÃ‚Â start-up called Omneuron that combines cognitive therapy with fMRI (an advanced neuroimaging technique thatÃ‚Â enablesÃ‚Â movie-like visual feedback on what areas of the brain are getting activated-like the image on the right).Ã‚Â
- – Quotes: “Omneuron… uses fMRI to teach people how to play with their own heads…Using a variety of mental techniques — for instance, imagining that a painful area is being flooded with soothing chemicals — most people can, with a little concentration, make the flame wax or wane…Doctors and drug-abuse experts are particularly excited about the idea of treating addiction using fMRI”
- – Comments: fMRI can be a great new source of feedback to support people learning new skills, and augment more mature technologies such as biofeedback. Now, what “treats” people is not really fMRI itself, but the cognitive “mental technique” described as “for instance, imagining that a painful area is being flooded with soothing chemicals” that we all can use to overcome pain and challenges in our daily life and doesn’t require multi-million dollar machinesÃ‚Â (which may be helpful for people with specific medical conditions).
- – If you want to learn more: an example of a mental techniqueÃ‚Â we can all useÃ‚Â
4) Stop Making Sense: David Brooks reviews a new political bookÃ‚Â and plugs-in very well Damasio’s research on decision-making and emotions.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
- – Quotes: “The core problem with Westen’s book is that he doesn’t really make use of what we know about emotion. He builds on the work of Antonio Damasio, without applying Damasio’s conception of how emotion emerges from and contributes to reason. In this more sophisticated view, emotions are produced by learning. As we go through life, we learn what cause leads to what effect. When, later on, we face similar situations, the emotions highlight possible outcomes, drawing us toward some actions and steering us away from others. In other words, emotions partner with rationality. It’s not necessary to dumb things down to appeal to emotions. It’s not necessary to understand some secret language that will key certain neuro-emotional firings. The best way to win votes — and this will be a shocker — is to offer people an accurate view of the world and a set of policies that seem likely to produce good results.”
- – Comments: no comments.
- – If you want to learn more: some highlights on Damasio’s research.
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