Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Update: Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age, and Industry Webinar

Here you have the August edi­tion of our monthly newslet­ter cov­er­ing cog­ni­tive health and Brain Fitnessbrain fit­ness top­ics. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, using the box at the top of this page.

Sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tion Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science recently pub­lished a spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion, and invited me to con­tribute with an arti­cle titled Prepar­ing Soci­ety for the Cog­ni­tive Age. Ground­break­ing brain research has occurred over the last 20 years. The oppor­tu­nity to improve brain health and per­for­mance is immense, but we need to ensure the mar­ket­place matures in a ratio­nal and sus­tain­able man­ner, both through health­care and non-healthcare chan­nels. Click Here to read my article.


In May 2009 Sharp­Brains pub­lished The State of the Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket 2009, the main indus­try report for lead­ing orga­ni­za­tions prepar­ing their mem­bers, their clients, and their patients for the cog­ni­tive age. 150-pages long, the report includes a mar­ket sur­vey with 2,000+ respon­dents, detailed analy­sis of 20+ ven­dors, research briefs writ­ten by 12 lead­ing sci­en­tists and data and trends for 4 major cus­tomer segments.webinar

Below we share the full Exec­u­tive Sum­mary of the report and announce an exclu­sive webi­nar on Sep­tem­ber 29th to dis­cuss the State of the Mar­ket in more depth with buy­ers of the report.

To order the report and access both the report and the webi­nar, you can click Here. (Only $975 –a 25% dis­count– using Dis­count Code Frontiers2009 before Sep­tem­ber 28th).

State of the Mar­ket

The brain fit­ness field holds excit­ing promise for the future while pre­sent­ing clear oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges today. The good news is that there are more tools avail­able than ever before to assess and train a vari­ety of cog­ni­tive skills. The bad news is that there are no magic pills and that con­sumers, while sat­is­fied over­all, seem con­fused by com­pet­ing claims on how to reduce one’s “brain age.” We do see signs that this early-stage mar­ket can mature in a more ratio­nal, struc­tured man­ner; but there is much work to be done. We esti­mate that the size of the U.S. brain fit­ness soft­ware (i.e., appli­ca­tions designed to assess or enhance cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties) mar­ket in 2008 was $265M  grow­ing 18% from $225M in 2007, and rep­re­sent­ing an annu­al­ized growth rate of 38% since 2005. Growth came in roughly equal parts from two seg­ments: con­sumers (grew from $80M to $95M) and health­care and insur­ance providers (grew from $65 to $80). K12 school sys­tems remained mostly flat. The mil­i­tary, sports and cor­po­rate seg­ment con­tin­ued to expand but from a lower base.

Advances in neu­ro­science and the inter­est of baby boomers in the con­cept and impli­ca­tions of neu­ro­plas­tic­ity are dri­ving pop­u­lar inter­est and effort into retain­ing men­tal sharp­ness. This in turn has fueled the inter­est of health­care and insur­ance providers to test and intro­duce brain fit­ness prod­ucts. A vari­ety of devel­op­ments in 2008 under­line the sector’s annual growth and plants seeds for sig­nif­i­cant future breakthroughs:

Inno­va­tion by pio­neer­ing insti­tu­tions: We esti­mate that around 300 res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties added com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams in 2008, mak­ing for an esti­mated accu­mu­lated total of over 700. Insur­ance providers All­state and OptumHealth launched major ini­tia­tives, while the USA Hockey League announced an upcom­ing hockey-specific brain fit­ness soft­ware pack­age.
Research themes got rein­forced:
1) Lifestyle, led by aer­o­bic exer­cise, can improve cog­ni­tion and reduce demen­tia risk,
2) Build­ing the cog­ni­tive reserve through lead­ing men­tally stim­u­lat­ing lives pro­vides neu­ro­pro­tec­tion to help stay sharper longer,
3) Spe­cific cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties can be assessed and enhanced through the use of appro­pri­ate tools.

Fund­ing events and acqui­si­tions: A num­ber of devel­op­ers raised money dur­ing the year: Dakim ($10.6m), Cog­niFit ($5m), Lumos Labs ($3m), Sci­en­tific Brain Train­ing ($1.5m), Viv­ity Labs ($1m). Sci­en­tific Learn­ing bought Solil­o­quy and Posit Sci­ence bought Visual Awareness.

Pub­lic pol­icy & pub­lic sec­tor ini­tia­tives:
1) a new US Army pol­icy required com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive screen­ings of all sol­diers before deploy­ment,
2) the Gov­ern­ment of Ontario invested $10m in Bay­crest to develop and com­mer­cial­ize brain fit­ness tech­nolo­gies.
3) The Men­tal Health Par­ity Act will take effect in Jan­u­ary 2010,
4) a grow­ing empha­sis by Medicare to reduce hos­pi­tal read­mis­sions (which can be pre­dicted by patient’s func­tional sta­tus, includ­ing cog­ni­tive functioning).

Mar­ket Sur­vey

In Jan­u­ary 2009 we con­ducted an online sur­vey to under­stand emerg­ing beliefs, atti­tudes and habits among decision-makers and early adopters. High­lights of the 2,000+ responses were:

61% of respon­dents Strongly Agree with the state­ment “Address­ing cog­ni­tive and brain health should be a health­care pri­or­ity.” But, 65% Agree/Strongly Agree with “I don’t really know what to expect from prod­ucts mak­ing brain claims. In sum, inter­est and con­fu­sion.
The top three out of ten pre­dic­tions (“Over the next 5 to 7 years we will see) with the high­est per­cent­age of respon­dents who Strongly Agree are: 1) a wide selec­tion of computer-based pro­grams, for dif­fer­ent uses (33%), 2) more loca­tions and tools inte­grat­ing phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise (27%), and 3) brain fit­ness becom­ing a main­stream topic, for most if not all ages (27%).

Cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion among buy­ers (both of elec­tronic prod­ucts and puz­zle books) was good over­all but could be bet­ter. To the state­ment, “I got real value for my money, the results were: 18% Strongly Agree, 35% Agree, 33% Neu­tral, 11% Dis­agree, 3% Strongly Dis­agree.

Top four prod­ucts among buy­ers: 1) Posit Sci­ence, 2) Puz­zle Books, 3) Nin­tendo Brain Age, 4) They seem to attract dif­fer­ent demo­graphic groups, and present dif­fer­ent lev­els of cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion: Posit Sci­ence (53% Agree) and (51%) do bet­ter than Puz­zle Books (39%) and Nin­tendo (38%) at “I have seen the results I wanted.” Given very dif­fer­ent price points, the rank changes with “I got real value for my money : (65% Agree), Puz­zle Books (60%), Posit Sci­ence (52%), Nin­tendo (51%).

Com­pet­i­tive Landscape

In 2008 the com­pet­i­tive land­scape started to become more clearly defined, with a num­ber of play­ers tak­ing the lead in spe­cific niches both on the assess­ment and train­ing sides of the market.

Our Mar­ket and Research Momen­tum analy­sis resulted in the cat­e­go­riza­tion of twenty-one com­pa­nies into four groups to bet­ter pre­dict long-term sus­tain­abil­ity of com­pany and approach.

- Lead­ers: Brain Resource, Cog­ni­tive Drug Research, Lumos Labs, Posit Sci­ence
- High Poten­tials: Applied Cog­ni­tive Engi­neer­ing, Cogmed, Cog­niFit, Houghton Mif­flin, NovaV­i­sion, Sci­en­tific Brain Train­ing, Sci­en­tific Learn­ing, Trans­An­a­lyt­ics
- Cross­words 2.0: Dakim, Nin­tendo, Viv­ity Labs
- Wait & See: Advanced Brain Tech­nolo­gies, Brain Cen­ter Amer­ica, CNS Vital Signs, CogState, Learn­ing Enhance­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, Vig­or­ous Mind

Our prod­uct analy­sis shows that the prod­ucts with higher lev­els of clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion are also the ones focused on more spe­cific cog­ni­tive needs. It is impor­tant to eval­u­ate the clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion per cog­ni­tive skill(s) tar­geted, together with other prod­uct attrib­utes, to find a poten­tial prod­uct to match spe­cific needs. Not even the train­ing prod­ucts with rel­a­tive higher lev­els of clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion, by Cogmed and NovaV­i­sion, should be seen as the best inter­ven­tion for every sin­gle indi­vid­ual and purpose.

The Sci­ence

There is grow­ing evi­dence that cog­ni­tion is more mal­leable that once thought, and that lifestyle, non-invasive inter­ven­tions, and inva­sive inter­ven­tions all play a role in aug­ment­ing or main­tain­ing cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. With that con­text, technology-based assess­ments and train­ing tools may be an impor­tant part of the over­all mix.

Com­put­er­ized pro­grams have been found to be an effi­cient and scal­able way to assess and train a range of spe­cific cog­ni­tive skills. How­ever, they have not been found to be “gen­eral solu­tions” that can address all cog­ni­tive pri­or­i­ties for every­one. Con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als need to make informed deci­sions about which, if any, tools may be worth try­ing with­out falling prey to man­u­fac­tur­ers inflated claims or negat­ing the value of those tools as a gen­eral principle.

We asked thir­teen lead­ing sci­en­tists to exam­ine the state of the research, and emerg­ing impli­ca­tions, in five areas:

The neu­ro­pro­tec­tive value of cog­ni­tive activ­ity in gen­eral: this is well estab­lished through a vari­ety of long-term epi­demi­o­log­i­cal studies.

The impor­tance of using cog­ni­tive assess­ments as pre­dic­tors of dri­ving safety: dri­ving may well become one of the major areas where cog­ni­tive assess­ments and train­ing can play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the next few years. Update: in July 2009, AAA announced a new ini­tia­tive to deploy Posit Science’s Dri­ve­Sharp to Assess and Train Older Driver’s Brains

The value of com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing tar­get­ing work­ing mem­ory, audi­tory pro­cess­ing, visual pro­cess­ing: a grow­ing amount of pub­lished evi­dence shows the clear ben­e­fits, and the lim­i­ta­tions, from dif­fer­ent train­ing approaches.

The cog­ni­tive effects of action and strat­egy videogames: it is impos­si­ble to answer the ques­tion “are videogames good or bad” with­out clar­i­fy­ing a) which videogames, b) good or bad for what? Spe­cific games are show­ing the kind of ben­e­fits that jus­tify edu­ca­tional and health uses.

The need for objec­tive mark­ers: inno­v­a­tive approaches are try­ing to solve this major bottleneck.

Cus­tomer Seg­ments

The demand for brain fit­ness soft­ware presents dif­fer­ent dynam­ics in each of the four main cus­tomer segments:

Con­sumers: “Brain fit­ness” is quickly becom­ing a main­stream cul­tural phe­nom­e­non with all of the oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges that this devel­op­ment rep­re­sents. On the one hand, it was time for adults of all ages to start pay­ing more atten­tion to the impact of lifestyle options on cog­ni­tive health, includ­ing the poten­tial use­ful­ness of new tools beyond cross­word puz­zles and Sudoku, dri­ven by recent sci­en­tific find­ings such as adult neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and the cog­ni­tive reserve. On the other hand, the over­whelm­ing amount of super­fi­cial media cov­er­age and aggres­sive claims is cre­at­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­fu­sion among con­sumers, and skep­ti­cism among researchers and health­care professionals.

Health­care and Insur­ance Providers: A good num­ber of inno­va­tors are actively test­ing and incor­po­rat­ing a vari­ety of brain fit­ness tools, which over time should help bet­ter inte­grate cog­ni­tive health issues into main­stream health­care. Seniors hous­ing oper­a­tors have quickly been adding cog­ni­tive train­ing to their range of health and well­ness activ­i­ties. Insur­ance com­pa­nies are run­ning major ini­tia­tives aimed at dri­ver safety and improv­ing the accu­racy of diag­nos­tics. Drug com­pa­nies are adding cog­ni­tive test­ing to their tri­als. Grow­ing evi­dence is sup­port­ing the use of spe­cific cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions in clin­i­cal con­di­tions such as atten­tion deficits and stroke/traumatic brain injury, among others.

K12 School Sys­tems: Despite grow­ing poten­tial, there were few mean­ing­ful mar­ket devel­op­ments in this seg­ment in 2008. Rev­enues and the com­pet­i­tive land­scape were basi­cally stag­nant. It is in the applied research area where we are start­ing to see seeds of poten­tial future growth, given emerg­ing evi­dence that cog­ni­tive train­ing does not only con­tribute to cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment but, when directed appro­pri­ately, can also impact aca­d­e­mic per­for­mance in sub­jects like math and reading.

Mil­i­tary, Sports Teams, Cor­po­rate: Three of the trends we iden­ti­fied last year, includ­ing base­line assess­ments, train­ing to improve per­for­mance, and appli­ca­tions for the aging pop­u­la­tion, con­tin­ued and grew sig­nif­i­cantly in 2008. First, the US Army intro­duced a new pol­icy requir­ing manda­tory computer-based cog­ni­tive base­lines for sol­diers before deploy­ment, in order to bet­ter iden­tify the extent of poten­tial brain dam­age such as Trau­matic Brain Injury. Sec­ond, the USA Hockey League part­nered to develop a new cog­ni­tive sim­u­la­tion train­ing to improve the per­for­mance of hockey play­ers. Third, the Con­fer­ence Board and the Dana Alliance for Brain Ini­tia­tives launched a book­let and web­site to raise aware­ness about cog­ni­tive fit­ness issues among large corporations.

Future Direc­tions

Inno­v­a­tive part­ner­ships will be required to trans­form the grow­ing amount of main­stream inter­est and research find­ings into a ratio­nal, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, and sus­tain­able approach to brain/ neu­rocog­ni­tive fit­ness. There are no “magic pills” or “gen­eral solu­tions” but there are use­ful tools when used appro­pri­ately. Bet­ter infor­ma­tion, assess­ments, tax­onomies and inte­grated research efforts are required for the field to mature. The pri­or­i­ties are not the same for all indi­vid­u­als, or for all objec­tives (such as safer dri­ving, pre­vent­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms, improv­ing mem­ory). The field holds much promise, but the pic­ture is complex.

We con­tinue to pre­dict that between now and 2015 brain fit­ness will become a main­stream con­cept, con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als will be able to lever­age bet­ter tools, and that a grow­ing ecosys­tem will enable this opportunity.

The key ques­tion, of course, is how much value will com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive assess­ment and train­ing tools deliver in the real world? The US brain fit­ness soft­ware mar­ket may grow to be between $1 bil­lion to $5 bil­lion by 2015. Whether the mar­ket reaches the high end of that range or stays closer to the lower end depends on how the whole field addresses the most impor­tant problems.

When asked “What is most impor­tant prob­lem in the field? respon­dents to our sur­vey pri­or­i­tized Pub­lic Aware­ness (39%), Nav­i­gat­ing claims (21%), Research (15%), Health­care Cul­ture (14%), Lack of Assess­ment (6%), and Other (5%). We believe that in years to come we will see progress in all those areas, and a deeper under­stand­ing of “Who needs what when?”, the most impor­tant unan­swered ques­tion so far.

The Webi­nar

On Tues­day Sep­tem­ber 29th, we will host a 90-minute webi­nar to review the find­ings of the report in more depth (60-minutes) and dis­cuss our clients’ per­spec­tives and ques­tions (30-minutes).

Time: Tues­day Sep­tem­ber 29th, 9am Pacific Time/ noon East­ern Time.

To order the report and access report and webi­nar, click Here. (only $975 –a 25% dis­count– using Dis­count Code Frontiers2009 before Sep­tem­ber 28th).

To pre­view sev­eral pages of the report, click Here. To view an info­graphic, click Here.

If you are an exist­ing client, we will con­tact you directly with Reg­is­tra­tion details.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

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