Writing a foreword to this book against a tight deadline is a somewhat challenging task. As you will learn later in the book though, there is reason to believe that such mentally stimulating, novel activities are beneficial for keeping my brain sharp as I gain in wisdom – and in years. Like many people, I have noticed changes with aging since my younger adult years. And while we all wish for a magic pill, at least for the time being it is our behaviors, perhaps aided by technology, which can help us to age well physically, emotionally, and cognitively.
Indeed, novel information, communications, networking, and interface technologies are poised to transform the way we approach our lifelong health and well-being, including our very understanding of what it means to be healthy and well. As a program officer at the National Science Foundation, I have been witnessing multiple discoveries and advances stimulated by the NSF Smart Health and Wellbeing program that may bring substantial improvements to how we enhance health. With rapid progress in sensor, online and mobile technology, advances in the domain of Smart Health open a new world of possibility for the systematic monitoring and managing of long-term health outcomes, going far beyond the sporadic treatment of acute conditions. The notion of Smart Health places greater emphasis on the management of wellness, rather than healing illness; it acknowledges the role of home, family, and community as significant contributors to individual health and wellbeing; and it recognizes the central role of an individual’s cognition in driving and maintaining healthy habits over time.
Alvaro Fernandez and I first met at a 2009 scientific symposium hosted by Arizona State University. I was there to give a talk about the promising potential in using computer games as a way to monitor and perhaps maintain cognition over time. Alvaro gave an insightful overview of the state of the science and marketplace for cognitive fitness. Mutual interests naturally led to a discussion after the talks and many exchanges thereafter. Since then, it has been my pleasure to participate in all three annual SharpBrains Virtual Summits held so far – they provide a unique opportunity to engage with colleagues at the forefront of the science, technology, and marketplace to support brain health and fitness across the lifespan. Our interactions included a September 2012 workshop on computer games, attention and well-being hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation that brought together neuroscientists, cognitive scientists and game designers.
The need for such transdisciplinary collaboration has long been recognized by SharpBrains, the pioneering organization bringing you this book, which has for a number years been bringing together a community of neuroscientists and cognitive scientists working towards a better understanding of the human brain, technologists devising ways to scale platforms and solutions, as well practitioners and consumers looking for practical ways to make real changes in behavior and lifestyle to improve brain health and health overall. This book reflects this diversity, covering topics ranging from the complexity of the brain and its mechanisms to the significance of different types of scientific studies to practical aspects of exercising, nutrition, and training.
A resource like this book in your hands provides a great starting point: although there is no “final word” on this still nascent topic, an important transformation is underway that people need to be aware of and prepared for. This book is a great start for making sense of it all and for taking active steps towards smart health, at the individual level, and Smart Health, at the societal level. And while this book was written to be accessible to a wide audience, it remains a worthwhile and interesting read for experts as it provides a thoughtful and well-integrated summary of emerging findings and hypotheses. This combined value – for the general and the expert reader – is in part achieved through the inclusion of candid interviews with top researchers and leaders in various relevant fields as well as succinct summaries and very clear structure and writing.
In short, no matter who you are, this is an important read. I hope you enjoy it.
Misha Pavel, PhD
Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Oregon Health and Science University, and Program Director for the National Science Foundation’s Smart Health and Wellbeing Program.