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Using Your Head: What is the Future of Brain Health? (Interview Part 2)

Into_The_Future(Editor’s Note: this is Part 2 of the conversation between David Coleiro and Alvaro Fernandez on the future of brain health. You can read Part 1 Here)

Non-invasive technologies
There is now a growing toolkit of non-invasive technologies which can be used in brain training. Examples of these include:

  • Emotiv and Neurosky: Have developed a chip that can measure brain activity and simplify EEG feedback. This has previously been an expensive and cumbersome technology, used by many clinicians but one which has never been standardised or validated. The platform simplifies data gathering and analysis to measure brain activity. This technology was initially developed to add functionality in video gaming but is now moving into health and wellness applications.
  • Cogmed: Have a protocol for ‘working memory’ training, which is currently the intervention with the greatest evidence base; it is starting to be adopted by schools alongside a suite of some of the best paper and pen cognitive assessments.
  • Atentiv (qEEG): Have developed a more sophisticated method to measure brain activity to deal with symptoms derived from ADHD. They have recently received funding from the Singapore government for a research project led by Duke University, to explore the impact of large scale technology interventions.

Paradigm shift
One potential barrier has been that unlike cardiovascular health for example, the field has lacked measures that are well understood and replicable, so that we can understand good and bad performance as well as changes over time. However, we are at the early stages of a paradigm shift in technology that should enable the use of accessible, long-term markers, measures and monitoring of brain health such as cognitive status and processing speed.

For example, another company, Brain Resource, has developed a comprehensive and standardised list of input and output data points, which can track large populations. This is intended to help personalise medicines aimed at improving brain function or cognition, and provide real world evidence on the impact of interventions. It is currently being funded by the European Union to apply its platform to depression and ADHD, to explore how we can better target and personalise interventions.

These innovations also provide the potential to leverage the collection of large longitudinal datasets, to accelerate brain research. Having the tools and datasets to establish a cognitive baseline and monitor people over time, will improve diagnosis, treatment (due to the ability to personalise intervention to specific sets of co-morbidities) and patient engagement.

This explosion of innovation is also driving a different mindset in healthcare, with a more holistic view of health fully incorporating brain health. A major hospital in Santa Barbara is fundamentally changing its approach to helping people with Alzheimer’s, a disease where once diagnosed, it is usually too late to have any significant impact. They have launched a new centre for cognitive health, with the aim of engaging consumers across their lifetime, removing the stigma of brain health so that their patients do not just engage with the services when they have a problem or symptoms, but to encourage them to be more active and healthy in the same way people think of physical fitness – so it becomes more of a lifelong activity.

The convergence of these developments will change the way healthcare is delivered. In the future we could all have an annual mental health check-up, using computerised neuropsychological metrics; light and inexpensive in terms of both user and health system, but providing data that will inform care decisions, and cost-effective interventions to help maintain brain health.

Personally, as I get older, I am reassured and excited by that. Professionally, I am more convinced than ever that the next few years will be a hugely exciting time in brain health research, and I look forward to continuing working with our clients and partners to play a small part in that story.

David Coleiro is a found­ing part­ner at www.strategicnorth.com, and this inter­view is adapted from the book Strate­gic Tales by Strate­gic North. To request your free copy please email them at info@strategicnorth.com.

For more infor­ma­tion on Alvaro Fernandez and SharpBrains work you can read the recent TEDWeekends article Retooling Brain Care with Low-cost, Data-driven Technologies, and the new market report “The Digital Brain Health Market 2012-2020: Web-based, mobile and biometrics-based technology to assess, monitor and enhance cognition and brain functioning,”

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