Sep 22, 2010
Although these questions are relevant at virtually all lifespan stages, firm answers can sometimes appear inconceivable. Unfortunately with advancing age, attention to mental performance is often either abandoned or framed in terms of perceived impairment and decline. Now, I have previously shared my message on minding the aging brain with SharpBrains readers. As a cognitive neuropsychiatrist primarily interested in later-life phenomena, I tend to stick to my area of expertise. Nevertheless, whether you are elder or not, I implore you to take these ideas to heart…do you mind?
Just as brain fitness is for all, aging is similarly universal. Every thoughtful individual recognizes the unavoidable answer to “are you aging?” However, the answer to “how are you aging?” is less obvious to most, and is even more obscure when considering lifespan cognitive trajectories. In fact, no consensus lexicon yet exists to describe the ways in which cognition can be modulated to achieve desired lifestyle or clinical goals.
In my latest publication on technology-enabled cognitive training for healthy elders, I outline a proposed lexicon for positive cognition interventions, as well as a framework for classifying putative benefits of cognitive training. Here, I will present these concepts without regard to age, as they apply equally well to all sapient sapiens:
? Cognitive stimulation refers to nontargeted engagement that generally enhances mental functioning. Examples might include educational endeavors or life review.
? Cognitive training refers to theory-driven intervention, supported by a conceptual framework and specified neurocognitve mechanisms. Examples might include mnemonic strategy adoption or software-based brain fitness programs.
? Cognitive rehabilitation strategies address impairments resulting from neuropsychiatric disorders. Examples might include post-stroke language therapy or targeted programs to remediate attention deficits or dyslexia.
? Cognitive enrichment further includes a range of lifestyle behaviors which can benefit cognitive performance, including multimodal brain fitness interventions involving physical, nutritional, and social activity.
Although there are similarities to these concepts, the distinctions are instructive and reflect a synthesis of perspectives. Positive cognition is intended to be a descriptive term which subsumes these as well as enhancement or cosmetic approaches, which may involve pharmaceutical or direct modulation of neural systems with magnetic, electrical, or optical energy. The essence of positive cognition is the intent to influence lifespan cognition toward the optimal, or even to extend the range of possibilities defined by biology.
Now, whatever your stage of life and whichever approach to positive cognition is most relevant to your goals, be sure to ask yourself some tough questions. If you come up with good answers, please don’t hesitate to leave your comments below. Of course, if you would like to share your critique of my ideas or of positive cognition with other SharpBrains readers, I certainly won’t mind.
—- Educated and trained at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and in the heart of Brooklyn, Dr. Steinerman’s ambition is to contribute to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, one of the great challenges of the 21st century. He is Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, where he founded the Center for Healthy Brain Aging. He is also the founding scientist of ProGevity Neuroscience.