Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Cognitive News November-December 2008

Here you have several recent articles and developments worthy of attention:Brain Health News

1) Boom times for brain training games (CNN)
2) Navigating the brain fitness landscape: do’s and don’ts (McKnight’s Long Term Care News)
3) USA Hockey and Intelligym (press release)
4) Brain Fitness at New York Public Library (NYPL blog)
5) McDonnell Foundation grant harnesses cognitive science to improve student learning (press release)
6) Health insurance firms offering online cognitive therapy for insomnia (Los Angeles Times)
7) HeadMinder Cognitive Stability Index: Computerized Neurocognitive … (Press release)
8) THE AGE OF MASS INTELLIGENCE (Intelligent Life)
9) Working Later in Life May Facilitate Neural Health (Cerebrum)
10) The Cool Factor: Never Let Them See You Sweat (New York Times)

Links, selected quotes and commentary:

In the News

1) Boom times for brain training games (CNN)

Includes my quote “[Brain fitness] is not just some fad. The market is much deeper than Nintendo.”

Comment: This article provides is a very good market overview. The reporter and I also discussed in depth the need for better consumer education and professional development, so people can make informed decisions, and for cognitive assessments to serve as independent baseline, help identify priorities and measure results. Please note that our market estimates do include revenues of computerized cognitive assessments, today mostly used in clinical trials, and within the military and sports teams.

2) Navigating the brain fitness landscape: do’s and don’ts (McKnight’s Long Term Care News)

Comment: “Choosing the right cognitive fitness product or program for senior living residents is harder than it sounds. But understanding residents’ needs, identifying your objectives and considering the total cost of ownership will help set you on the right path.”
New initiatives

3) USA Hockey and Intelligym (press release)

– “USA Hockey, with partners ACE (Applied Cognitive Engineering) and the BIRD (Binational Industrial Research and Development) Foundation, have announced plans to develop a revolutionary product that will, for the first time ever, provide players a training tool to develop “hockey sense.”

– “To be called Hockey IntelliGym, the software-based product will furnish players with a highly effective training tool to develop perception and decision-making skills. Further, it will enable coaches to fine-tune the training program and follow-up on the progress of their players.”

– “We’re really into unchartered territory with the development of Hockey IntelliGym, said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “With the expertise of ACE and the support of the BIRD Foundation, we’ll be able to produce a product that will give our players an opportunity to improve in areas that training has never before been available.

– “It is anticipated that the product will be available in December 2010”

Comment:  this initiative is very meaningful for two reasons: first, it shows how the Brain Fitness field is composed of several market segments (we cover ACE as one of the companies in the Corporate, Military & Sports segment) beyond what we can call “healthy aging”. Second, it beautifully illustrates the potential to enhance cognitive performance at all ages – to improve quality of life, driving skills, job-related skills…for more context, read: Cognitive Training for Basketball Game-Intelligence: Interview with Prof. Daniel Gopher

4) Brain Fitness at New York Public Library (NYPL blog)

– “After attending a recent staff training session offered by the library’s Office of Staff Development, I decided to return to a habit of my childhood–eating sardines.”
– key pillars for brain health …are… “1) A balanced diet; 2) Cardiovascular physical exercise; 3) Stress management; and 4) Brain exercise: Novelty, Variety, Challenge (as long as it doesn’t stress us out).”

Comment: A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to give a talk to one hundred or so staff members at New York Public Library. As you would expect, it was a very stimulating group, and one of the participants wrote a fun blog post. The very interesting trend to observe here is the growing role of public libraries in providing quality brain health information.

5) McDonnell Foundation grant harnesses cognitive science to improve student learning (press release)

– “Using what cognitive psychologists are discovering in the laboratory to improve learning in the classroom is the goal of a $6.47 million collaborative activity grant to Washington University from the James S. McDonnell Foundation (JSMF).”

– “The aim of the grant is to take the knowledge that cognitive psychologists have gained about learning and memory from laboratory experimentation and to develop techniques to improve learning in the classrooms,” said Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III, Ph.D., principal investigator on the grant and the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences.

Comment: this is great news, but it would be even better would publishers be the ones developing these new techniques and curriculum – it is time to start moving beyond a purely content-based approach and introduce the evaluation and enhancement of what we can call “cognitive functions for life”.

6) Health insurance firms offering online cognitive therapy for insomnia (Los Angeles Times)

– “helping consumers get a good night’s sleep has become a priority for most of the top-tier U.S. health insurance companies, including WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna, Kaiser Permanente and several Blue Cross plans. Their new programs don’t involve sleeping pills. Instead, insurers are advocating the use of cognitive behavior therapy. Traditionally, the therapy has been done largely through face-to-face sessions, but many of the programs are now available online.”

– “And use of sleeping pills has skyrocketed. A study this year in the journal Health Affairs found a 50% jump in sleeping pill use — from 5,445 people per 100,000 in 1998 to 8,194 per 100,000 people in 2006. Though one version of Ambien, a popular sleep aid, is now available as a lower-cost generic costing about 50 cents per pill, newer drugs such as Rozerem and Lunesta cost about $4 and $5 per pill, respectively, or a minimum of nearly $1,500 per year for patients who take a sleeping pill every night. Online behavioral therapy programs cost less than $40 per user, and face-to-face counseling can range from about $300 to $1,800, depending on how many sessions a patient goes through and what level of specialist, from social worker to psychiatrist, provides the therapy.”

– “Unlike sleeping pills, counseling is usually a one-time thing and costs do not continue year to year.”

Comment: To read more on this trend – see The Future of Computer-assisted Cognitive Therapy

7) HeadMinder Cognitive Stability Index: Computerized Neurocognitive … (Press release)

– “The HeadMinder web-based Cognitive Stability Index (CSI) has proven more useful for blast-concussion detection than the ANAM computerized test battery the DoD currently employs. The CSI provides an immediate solution to clear the backlog of 400,000 IED-exposed service members in less than two years.”

– “The CSI is a 30-minute, Internet-based, computerized test that provides automated, objective measures of attention, memory, response speed, and processing speed for initial evaluation of cognitive functioning. The CSI produces standardized reports that enable triage and decision-making appropriate to a user’s qualifications – from medic to neuropsychologist to neurologist and other treatment team members.”

Comment: computer-based neurocognitive assessments will play a critical part in the brain fitness puzzle. How long will it take before consumers can have access to a reliable and credible annual “mental check-up”/ cognitive baseline?

The Big Picture

8) THE AGE OF MASS INTELLIGENCE (Intelligent Life)

– “Millions more people are going to museums, literary festivals and operas; millions more watch demanding television programmes or download serious-minded podcasts. Not all these activities count as mind-stretching, of course. Some are downright fluffy. But, says Donna Renney, the chief executive of the Cheltenham Festivals, audiences increasingly want “the buzz you get from working that little bit harder. This is a dramatic yet often unrecognised development. “When people talk and write about culture, says Ira Glass, the creator of the riveting public-radio show “This American Life”, it’s apocalyptic. We tell ourselves that everything is in bad shape. But the opposite is true. There’s an abundance of really interesting things going on all around us.

– “Third, what does all this say about the widespread view that societies are dumbing down, educational standards are crumbling and peoples ability to concentrate is collapsing? The reply must be that it cannot be true across the board and that for a significant number, the opposite is the case: people want more intellectually demanding things to see and hear, not fewer. Surely both things are happening at once: part of the population is dumbing down, part is wising up.”

Comment: For a related blog article, you may enjoy Exercise your brain in the Cognitive Age

9) Working Later in Life May Facilitate Neural Health (Cerebrum)

– “Carmi Schooler at the National Institutes of Health, using a technique that allowed him to assess causal relationships, found that adults who performed intellectually challenging jobs across their life span showed more cognitive flexibility in late adulthood than those who performed less demanding jobs.”

– “Perhaps the most compelling evidence regarding the impact of novel experiences on brain volume and function comes from a study at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Adults with a mean age of 59 spent three months learning to juggle three balls. Although only about half the participants were able to achieve competence in this complex skill, those who succeeded had increased volume in a mediotemporal area of the visual cortex as well as the nucleus accumbens and the hippocampus, suggesting that sustained novel experience can increase the sizes of neural structures. Notably, the changes in the nucleus accumbens and hippocampus were transient, disappearing three months after the juggling ceased. This intriguing study provides clear evidence that continued skill performance is necessary to maintain some gains from experience, and it strongly supports the “use it or lose it adage.”- “One of the premier challenges of the 21st century lies in determining what behaviors will protect neural health and then developing public health initiatives to encourage these behaviors in our communities. Sound social policies that encourage older people to keep working will have direct benefits to our economic system. It also could be neuroprotective, resulting in later onset of dementing illnesses, an outcome that offers gains for society thanks to reduced caregiving and health care costs, as well as extended time with beloved family members.”

Comment: simply spectacular article by Dr. Denise Park. When will we take brain fitness into account when selecting careers, jobs, retirement policies and  options?

10) The Cool Factor: Never Let Them See You Sweat (New York Times)

– “We even elevate such equilibrium to the superhuman: calm, as applied to No Drama Obama, often comes linked to the modifier “preternatural.”

– “But the calm temperament is not so superhuman, nor is it entirely the gift of the chosen few. It can be cultivated, even as the world cleaves around us.”

– “So how do we get there without a steady diet of beta blockers and Xanax? Calm, per se, doesn’t appear in the taxonomy of those who study personality and temperament.”

Comment: As the article later discloses, this ability is often called “emotional self-regulation” by cognitive scientists, and its development can assisted with tools such as meditation, cognitive therapy and biofeedback. Perhaps one day this will be part of everybody’s school curriculum and leadership programs?

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