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Brain Training Top 10 Future Trends

In an emerging, dynamic, high growth market, like brain training, it is difficult to make precise projections. But, we can observe a number of trends that executives, consumers, public policy makers, and the media should watch closely in the coming years, as brain fitness and training becomes mainstream, new tools appear, and an ecosystem grows around it.

1. We predict an increased emphasis on brain maintenance in locations ranging from retirement communities to gyms. As a computer-savvy baby boomer population looks for ways to stay mentally fit, brain fitness, or brain training, is becoming part of their vocabulary and concern.

2. Physical and mental exercise will be better integrated. Physical exercise has been shown to increase the rate of neurogenesis, whereas mental exercise helps ensure the survival of any newly created neurons. Today both activities usually take place in very different settings: the former, in health clubs, the later, in universities. We predict that the borders between them will become more diffuse. Expect new programs such as brain fitness podcasts that allow us to train working memory as we jog or exercise bikes with built-in brain games.

3. Watch for a broad government initiative, similar to the one JFK led, to increase the public awareness of the need for brain fitness. It is becoming more widely understood by the medical and policy community that a combination of physical exercise, nutrition, mental exercise and stress management can help us maintain our brain health as we age. As politicians and policy makers look for ways to delay the onset of Alzheimer-related symptoms of our aging population, new initiatives may be launched.

4. Better and more widely available assessments of cognitive function will serve as objective baselines to measure the impact of cognitive training interventions. There will also likely be better diagnostic tests to identify early Alzheimer’s symptoms, for example. Reliable diagnostic assessments of cognitive abilities will help move this field forward just as jumping on a scale tells you if your physical fitness and diet program is working.

5. Improved computer-based tools will come to market. The growing pipeline of research studies will enable the market leaders and new entrants to refine existing tools and devise new ones. More clinical studies will show the benefits of brain fitness programs to address specific clinical conditions and learning disabilities.

6. Low tech options will play an increasing role in the brain fitness field. Already, increasing research is showing the cognitive value and brain plasticity impact of interventions such as meditation and cognitive therapy. More research and wider applications will help refine our understanding of when and how they can be most helpful.

7. Doctors and pharmacists will help patients navigate through the overwhelming range of available products and interpret the results of cognitive assessments. This will require significant professional development efforts, given that most doctors today were trained under a very different understanding of the brain than the one we have today.

8. Insurance companies will introduce incentives for members to encourage healthy aging. Many insurance plans today include rewards for members who, for example, voluntarily take health-related questionnaires that enable them to identify steps to take to improve health. Increasingly, brain-related lifestyle factors will become part of these incentivized interventions.

9. Investments in new cognitive interventions for the U.S. military will be commercialized. As the military increasingly funds research to improve the diagnostic and treatment of problems such as PTSD and TBI, the resulting products will ultimately find commercial uses.

10. Brain training will be added to corporate wellness and leadership initiatives. Large employers with existing corporate wellness and leadership programs will introduce brain fitness specific programs aimed not only at improved health outcomes but also at increased productivity and cognitive performance in the workplace.

These predictions come from market research we conducted in 2008. Three more recent resources are:

  • 2012 Market Report on Digital Brain Health
  • 2009 Consumer-oriented Guide, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: Here
  • Annual virtual conference gathering 250+ Innovators and Experts: Here

 

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24 Responses

  1. Gerry says:

    Two possible trends that I think could happen in the future are:
    1) Are the use of brain training in sport. A common cliche used with sport is that 90% of the game is played between the ears. If this is the case, then using brain friendly coaching techniques could be a real bonus.
    2) Teacher training. Imagine using brain-friendly techniques whilst training teachers. Incredible idea. That might mean that those teachers may use them with their classes. Amazing. One can only hope.

  2. Martin says:

    These seem to be very reasonable and farsighted predictions, Alvaro.

    I wonder whether high schools will incorporate brain training as they incorporates physical exercise today?

    The idea that a company could invest in brain training for its employees is fascinating. It would be a bold step, and perhaps give the early adopters a significant competitive edge.

  3. Andreas says:

    Alvaro,

    Great summary.

    I curious to see the effects of key point #3, which is of huge importance.

    Roughly, 2/3s of the total risk for Alzheimers and cognitive decay is thought to be precipitated by modifiable risk factors, such as degree of social and intellectual engagement, physical exercise and diet. This is one of many key messages about preventive brain health that all people should be aware of.

    Through government initiatives you’re able to reach a broader range of the population. In general I believe initiatives by governments can have huge impact on brain health awareness, but it must be done properly. Today, society invests far too little in prevention, only 1% to 3% of health care expenditures (Woolf SH. The big answer: rediscovering prevention at a time of crisis in health care. Harv Health Policy Rev. 2006;7:5-20)!

    I’m interested to see whether your government are able to do something to turn this around and invest more in preventive medicine, such as brain health initiatives.

    Regards,
    Andreas (Norway)

  4. Alvaro says:

    Hello Gerry and Martin, thank you for the great suggestions.

    Andreas: great point, and we couldn’t agree more!

  5. David Harris says:

    Hi, I really enjoyed this article and would like to cross post it to my site with your permission. I am also going to shoot for the ‘best suggestion’ prize…

    Come join us in Hong Kong this December for the UltraFuture Expo 🙂

    Please email me.

  6. Brian Jones says:

    This is a good read. I agree with a number of the ones listed. However, I am not sure if the doctors will be pushing brain training. Although I believe there will be an increase in preventative medicine, I think that brain training is not really something doctors will be really interested in supporting because there will be no money in it for them. This is not to say they are against it, but it is to say that they do not have a strong financial incentive to support it.

    Best,
    Brian Jones

  7. Alvaro says:

    David, happy to learn more about your organization and Expo, will email you.

    Brian: two thoughts, a) many doctors do a number of things for their patients´health without having a direct financial incentive, so we believe this will happen here as well as appropriate (not “pushing” brain training, but suggesting quality resources at a minimum); b) maybe this will become a new type of consultation, reimbursed by insurance. (these predictions include the period 2007-2015…so things may change more than we expect).

  8. iain says:

    Fascinating stuff.

    I can definitively see advances in elite sports performance. Really only now starting to play with biofeedback systems. The traditional sport psych generally has probably performed underwhelmingly in terms of demand and objective results (in my opinion). The belief is still very strong that the brain can be tapped much more to enhance athletic performance. A recent research article showing placebo performed better than subjects on Human Growth Hormone. So much has gone into researching the physiology of performance and relatively little into neuropsychology. Cognitive training breakthroughs I believe are the next legal breakthrough area for elite sport.

  9. Mike Kirkeberg says:

    I have been fascinated by all things brain oriented, from thinking (cog) science to neuropsych. As a coach, I wonder how a brain coach would function!!

  10. Federico says:

    Hola realmente disfrute la lectura de este articulo. Creo que la felicidad como meta estara cada vez mas presente en el entrenamiento mental.

    Saludos
    Federico

  11. Scott says:

    I am a retired public schools superintendent, and would add the following prediction:

    Prediction 11: The notion of schooling will be structurally dramatically altered through the use of diagnostics related to the acquisition and improvement of basic cognitive skills (such as brain processing speed, attention, memory, and sequencing), along with prescriptions employing emerging brain fitness software exercises, beginning in the earliest grades and progressing through high school. Schools will be structured around the acquisition of foundational cognitive skills, related physical fitness to support brain fitness, student awareness and knowledge of brain function and responsibility for one’s own fitness. Schools will be much more organically structured along the learning needs of individuals, will be a community repository and asset for access to continuing brain and physical fitness programming, and will continue to provide important content knowledge acquisition experiences delivered through integrated experiential learning, custom-designed for the individual learner, and varying by time and place as needed. Group learning gaps will close as the playing field levels in the acquisition of the basic cognitive skills required for high levels of success and learning. “Special education” as such will first disappear in the middle and later grades as students receive early intervention for cognitive skill development and as the plethora of currently diagnosed mental disorders are better understood as brain function issues that can either be prevented or remediated through neuroscience-based interventions, and will finally entirely disappear as a function of the design of individual learning plans for every student. The nature of schooling is thus liberated from the current model of emphasis on content acquisition to become more focused on the teacher-student interface of interest-directed learning undergirded by the skills necessary for high-order thinking and learning.

  12. Alvaro says:

    iain, Mike, Federico, Scott, thank you for the great comments.

    iain and Scott, I couldn´t agree more with your respective suggestions!

    Mike: the best analogy I can think of is a personal “brain” trainer with enough knowledge of coaching and applied cognitive science…who will fill those shoes? we´ll see.

  13. Catherine Beman says:

    Like Mike Kirkeburg, I am interested in the idea of a brain coach. I feel there is a market for such a service amongst baby boomers who worry more about dementia etc than a lack of physical health. Just how much applied cognitive science relating to people in their 50s & 60s does one need to know and where do you find that knowledge?

  14. Patrick McHenry says:

    Three of the biggest obstacles facing our nation’s youth today are Obesity; Math and Science scores. The NIH has reported that “…one-third of our children our overweight and at the risk of being obese” (1). The Shape of the Nation Report stated: “The percentage of young people has more then tripled since 1980” (2). Health and wellness has been identified in the top five “… skills and content areas will be growing in importance in the next five years?” according to 21st Century Skills: What Can School Principals Do? (3)

    Physical Education is the one class that can cover all three areas at the same time. Your research, #2 & #3 could help establish an integrated curriculum that would have students “applying” the “theories” they have learned in math and science class.

    Students could take the data from their performance testing in PE and then analyze it in their statistics class.

    Students could learn about “power” in science class and then go to the weight room to perform vertical jumps. With their weight, jump height and time the students could calculate who is the most power person in class.

    By integrating the classes more physical education time would be needed to perform the experiments. Students would have more physical activity which would also lead to an “increase the rate of neurogenesis”.

  15. Alvaro says:

    Hello Catherine, we do see that need too. The difficulty is that, given how fast the research and the field are moving, you really need someone well versed on cognitive science and neuropsychology to do a credible job beyond using 3 or 4 simplistic formulas (which are better than nothing, perhaps based on a 4-pillar approach, covering nutrition, physical exercise, stress management and mental exercise). It will require a solid training and certification effort, closely linked to research and rapidly evolving.

    Hello Patrick, thank you for the suggestions. Perhaps schools could also add a Brain 101 class, for students to understand for themselves the rationale and value of PE, good nutrition, critical thinking, math, and other activities than often get neglected?

  16. Wolf says:

    Training of our brains can be quite simple and straight forward, if we only
    think about the most elementary and most ancient uses of our brains: Think
    about ball games, where we frequently need to catch or hit the ball in ever
    changing circumstances! Similarly horses excel in speed by quickly using
    elementary steps plus the minor adoptions called syncopes due to the ever
    changing surfaces. The elegance and power of racing horses are amazing while
    the dullness of constantly repeating work at the previous production lines
    came from their primitive and mechanical means of control definitely missing
    evolution’s elegant and flexible designs.

    Much of our perception unconsciously “runs (semi-) automatically in the
    background” and delivers the building blocks for our decisions. In order to
    recognize crucial aspects we need “to factor out the recurring
    patterns”
    as the “Principle of Abstraction” suggests. To
    optimally support our intuition and creativity experienced trainers therefore
    tell us what elementary actions to exercise in order to get accustomed to new
    fields and successfully cope with a broad range of situations.

    For concrete brain training projects the wealth of information commonly
    available today needs to be transformed and molded into suitable forms. In
    this preparatory phase of analysis we need to create a good cognitive model of
    the field to be dealt with. In the next step this design is broken up again
    so we can figure out the crucial patterns our perception needs to be trained
    with. Finally we have to provide sound and creative means of combinations so
    that even periphery situation can be dealt with in an ad hoc fashion.
    Additional feedback cycles finally provide an even better adoption to the
    things really needed.

    All this sounds like an awful lot of work. But the crux lies in the
    richness our evolution provided us with. So a thorough analysis and a solid
    training phase quickly leads to often excellent results. – The return of
    investment could not be better! 🙂

  17. Many years ago I receive a treatment called cognitive remediation in the Rusk Institute in Manhattan. Very simple, systematic, at time tedious as it worked on repetition. 3 years later I was aware as to the full extent of my injury. I am fully aware of my deficits…BUT…througout my travels in the medical system I have never seen this treatment. So something is wrong. It is very effective and it does allow me to live my life now that I have had it. I hope one of these days it surfaces and others will be given the same opportunity. I guess the biggest problem with these treatment is that it would require a small classroom setting with various head injured members. That would probably take away from the doctor’s potential to make money…Ninuccio

  18. John, the Rusk Institute does indeed have a very fine reputation for cognitive remediation and neuropsychology, and I am happy to see you saw its benefits. The good news is that the value of structured cognitive rehab, computerized and not, is becoming more widely recognized. But, as many things in medicine, progress is slower than we would like…all our efforts to raise awareness are much needed, so I welcome your comment, and invite you to leave similar comments in other science and health blogs.

    thank you!

  19. Alvaro and community,

    A prescient list grounded in empirical review. With vanguard research hitting critical mass, I can imagine brain training becoming the next hot trend like “yoga,” kick-boxing, or Kabbalah. Pick the celebrity and get ready to market!

    A few other thoughts:

    The Knowledge, Health and Corporate Cultures will run with this as brain training is a powerful addition to any skill set for high performance e.g.

    1. Doctors and P.A.’s will take responsibility for brain training only if med schools start introducing Brain 101. I suspect the training will run more easily through team based holistic centers.

    2. Schools A-K and post-secondary will incorporate low tech courses for age appropriate populations. The Yoga Alliance has already started to work on the A-K demographic; the Center for Contemplative Studies has started making inroads into the university and college sector.

    And uni’s like UCLA are finding ways to include neuro-training in their leadership and management degree and extension programs.

    3. With the U.S. government now offering large grants for low tech intervention into the PSTD crisis, I suspect we will see more of this, especially as war seems to be an inevitable condition of creating economic growth (C.F. Gore Vidal).

    4. Social Networking Generation: Informed, interactive and engaged, the mindshare/facebook generation is a powerful group for moving brain technologies to the fore. Youth culture is already tapped into low and high tech means of entraining the brain. The neuro-coaches will grow out of this generation and join the ranks who started years ago, sitting and chanting for unity of consciousness!

    On that note, the resounding effects of the Jill Bolte Taylor talk at TED this year, leads me to suggest that we should not underestimate the efforts made by spiritual leaders and communities, e.g. Art of Living and the descendents of the T.M., who carry the low tech practices of breathing and mantra meditation across the globe and forward into the 21st c.

    I predict The Mind Life Institute will continue to help bridge the science/religion gap.

    5. Brain Technology advanced by Indian and Chinese cultures: consider the demographics alone. Then think about the great mind/body philosophies to grow out of each civilization: Pranayana; Tai Chi Ch’uan. The youth of Asia will return to their roots. I’ve lived there and seen the evidence.

    6. Finally, Brain Technology as Sustainable Design?
    I look forward to the new “green” generation of biofeedback toys to come from the enlightened ranks of bio-engineering.

    Wouldn’t it be a blast if everyone’s prediction came through?

  20. M.A.: thank you for the many good thoughts. Yes, it is going to be fun to see how all this evolves!

  21. Vijay says:

    What is brain fitness and how it is measured? Is it the same as mind fitness which seeks to achieve balance in life?

  22. Alvaro and Vijay — two thoughts:

    Alvaro: Re: predictions: one more musing carried over from attending the Anti-Aging conference at UCLA this summer — produced by Aubrey de Grey’s Methuselah Foundation: As several herein have noted, public policy and broad public education through marketing may make a huge difference. An entire afternoon of the Anti – Aging conference was spent discussion marketing issues, e.g., how to entrain the political culture to put anti-aging research and education at the top of its agenda!

    (P.S. Wish I could join you at the brain and anti aging conference in S.F. tomorrow…. the academic year is just starting!)

    Vijay: Great question, as the term fitness presumes the logics of comparison and relativism. As well, it is a word that carries with it the presumptions of 19th century Darwinian evolution. It might be worth situating the question within a systems framework such that the inquiry is made relevant to the context. Fitness in what time and space? For what task? Relative to what neural functions of the brain?

    Neuroscientists, what say you?

  23. Barbara Saunders says:

    My recent experience in a public school was that physical education was disappearing, and its brain benefits disappearing with it. I tend to believe that academic problems and physical coordination problems at the elementary level are often related.

  24. nick zhang says:

    my prediction: brain training technology will make learning second language much more effective than any of the courrent methodology to the point that one will be able to speak a second lauguage as well as hit/her native lauguage. In anther word the techology will identify the part of brain that process the native languages and engage it for second lauguage learning.

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