Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Brain teasers to help teens and adults test cognitive skills…and cognitive biases


Brain teaser: Please con­sider Linda, a 31-year-old woman, sin­gle and bright. When she was a stu­dent, in high school and in col­lege too, she was deeply involved in social jus­tice issues, and also par­tic­i­pated in envi­ron­men­tal protests. Which is more prob­a­ble about Linda’s occu­pa­tion today? Read the rest of this entry »

Neurologists prescribing cognitive enhancement drugs to healthy kids and adults?

Human-brain-pillsAccord­ing to a new posi­tion state­ment by the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Neu­rol­ogy (AAN), pre­scrib­ing cog­ni­tive enhance­ment, “attention-boosting,” drugs to healthy chil­dren is mis­guided and not jus­ti­fi­able. Inter­est­ingly, a 2009 posi­tion state­ment by AAN still in force today stated that doing so with adult “patients” is both legal and eth­i­cal (includ­ing the remark that “Neu­rol­o­gists who pre­scribe med­ica­tions for the off-label use of neu­roen­hance­ment are act­ing law­fully,” with­out really chal­leng­ing whether the drugs have been proven to be a) effec­tive and b) safe in that con­text). Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Merzenich on Brain Training, Assessments, and Personal Brain Trainers

Dr. Michael Merzenich Dr. Michael Merzenich, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor at UCSF, is a lead­ing pio­neer in brain plas­tic­ity research. In the late 1980s, Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invented the cochlear implant. In 1996, he was the found­ing CEO of Sci­en­tific Learn­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (Nas­daq: SCIL), and in 2004 became co-founder and Chief Sci­en­tific Offi­cer of Posit Sci­ence. He was elected to the National Acad­emy of Sci­ences in 1999 and to the Insti­tute of Med­i­cine this year. He retired as Fran­cis A. Sooy Pro­fes­sor and Co-Director of the Keck Cen­ter for Inte­gra­tive Neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Fran­cisco in 2007. You may have learned about his work in one of PBS TV spe­cials, mul­ti­ple media appear­ances, or neuroplasticity-related books.

(Alvaro Fer­nan­dez) Dear Michael, thank you very much for agree­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the inau­gural Sharp­Brains Sum­mit in Jan­u­ary, and for your time today. sharpbrains_summit_logo_webIn order to con­tex­tu­al­ize the Summit’s main themes, I would like to focus this inter­view on the likely big-picture impli­ca­tions dur­ing the next 5 years of your work and that of other neu­ro­plas­tic­ity research and indus­try pioneers.

Thank you for invit­ing me. I believe the Sharp­Brains Sum­mit will be very use­ful and stim­u­lat­ing, you are gath­er­ing an impres­sive group together. I am look­ing for­ward to January.

Neuroplasticity-based Tools: The New Health & Well­ness Frontier

There are many dif­fer­ent technology-free approaches to har­ness­ing –enabling, dri­ving– neu­ro­plas­tic­ity. What is the unique value that tech­nol­ogy brings to the cog­ni­tive health table?

It’s all about effi­ciency, scal­a­bil­ity, per­son­al­iza­tion, and assured effec­tive­ness. Tech­nol­ogy sup­ports the imple­men­ta­tion of near-optimally-efficient brain-training strate­gies. Through the Inter­net, it enables the low-cost dis­tri­b­u­tion of these new tools, any­where out in the world. Tech­nol­ogy also enables the per­son­al­iza­tion of brain health train­ing, by pro­vid­ing sim­ple ways to mea­sure and address indi­vid­ual needs in each person’s brain-health train­ing expe­ri­ence. It enables assess­ments of your abil­i­ties that can affirm that your own brain health issues have been effec­tively addressed.

Of course sub­stan­tial gains could also be achieved by orga­niz­ing your every­day activ­i­ties that grow your neu­ro­log­i­cal abil­i­ties and sus­tain your brain health. Still, if the ordi­nary cit­i­zen is to have any real chance of main­tain­ing their brain fit­ness, they’re going to have to spend con­sid­er­able time at the brain gym!

One espe­cially impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion of tech­nol­ogy is the scal­a­bil­ity that it pro­vides for deliv­er­ing brain fit­ness help out into the world. Think about how effi­cient the drug deliv­ery sys­tem is today. Doc­tors pre­scribe drugs, insur­ance cov­ers them, and there is a drug store in every neigh­bor­hood in almost every city in the world so that every patient has access to them. Once neuroplasticity-based tools and out­comes and stan­dard­ized, we can envi­sion a sim­i­lar sce­nario. And we don’t need all those drug stores, because we have the Internet!

Hav­ing said this, there are obvi­ous obsta­cles. One main one, in my mind, is the lack of under­stand­ing of what these new tools can do. Cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams, for exam­ple, seem counter-intuitive to con­sumers and many pro­fes­sion­als “ why would one try to improve speed-of-processing if all one cares about is œmem­ory? A sec­ond obvi­ous prob­lem is to get indi­vid­u­als to buy into the effort required to really change their brains for the bet­ter. That buy-in has been achieved for many indi­vid­u­als as it applies to their phys­i­cal health, but we haven’t got­ten that far yet in edu­cat­ing the aver­age older per­son that brain fit­ness train­ing is an equally effort­ful business!

Tools for Safer Dri­ving: Teens and Adults

Safe dri­ving seems to be one area where the ben­e­fits are more intu­itive, which may explain the sig­nif­i­cant traction.

Yes, we see great poten­tial and inter­est among insur­ers for improv­ing dri­ving safety, both for seniors and teens. Appro­pri­ate cog­ni­tive train­ing can lower at-fault acci­dent rates. You can mea­sure clear ben­e­fits in rel­a­tively short time frames, so it won’t take long for insur­ers to see an eco­nomic ratio­nale to not only offer pro­grams at low cost or for free but to incen­tivize dri­vers to com­plete them. All­state, AAA, State Farm and other insur­ers are begin­ning to real­ize this poten­tial. It is impor­tant to note that typ­i­cal acci­dents among teens and seniors are dif­fer­ent, so that train­ing method­olo­gies will need to be dif­fer­ent for dif­fer­ent high-risk populations.

Yet, most dri­ving safety ini­tia­tives today still focus on edu­cat­ing dri­vers, rather that train­ing them neu­ro­log­i­cally. We mea­sure vision, for exam­ple, but com­pletely ignore atten­tional con­trol abil­i­ties, or a driver’s use­ful field of view. I expect this to change sig­nif­i­cantly over the next few years.

Long-term care and health insur­ance com­pa­nies will ulti­mately see sim­i­lar ben­e­fits, and we believe that they will fol­low a sim­i­lar course of action to reduce gen­eral med­ical and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease– (Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment and Alzheimer’s– and Parkinsons-) related costs. In fact, many senior liv­ing com­mu­ni­ties are among the pio­neers in this field.

Boomers & Beyond: Main­tain­ing Cog­ni­tive Vitality

Main­stream media is cov­er­ing this emerg­ing cat­e­gory with thou­sands of sto­ries. But most cov­er­age seems still focused on does it work? more than “how do we define It”, what does work mean? or work for whom, and for what? Can you sum­ma­rize what recent research suggests?

We have seen clear pat­terns in the appli­ca­tion of our train­ing pro­grams, some pub­lished (like IMPACT), some unpub­lished, some with healthy adults, and some with peo­ple with mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment or early Alzheimers Dis­ease (AD). What we see in every case: Read the rest of this entry »

Work (and Juggle) for Cognitive Health

Spec­tac­u­lar arti­cle by Dr. Denise Park in this month’s Cere­brum:

Work­ing Later in Life May Facil­i­tate Neural Health

- “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 Read the rest of this entry »

Montessori classroom for Alzheimer’s disease patients

A beau­ti­ful ini­tia­tive, fea­tured in the New York Times today:
Com­ing Full Circle:

- “In a typ­i­cal Montes­sori class­room, teach­ers use category-sorting exer­cises to help young stu­dents see pat­terns and con­nec­tions. But the par­tic­i­pants in this group were mostly in their 80s and on the other side of the cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment curve. They are res­i­dents at an assisted-living facil­ity for peo­ple with demen­tia called Hearth­stone at the Esplanade, which has six other homes in New York State and Mass­a­chu­setts. Since July the res­i­dents have par­tic­i­pated in a full-time pro­gram of Montessori-based activ­i­ties designed for peo­ple with mem­ory deficiencies.”

- “A com­mon mis­con­cep­tion about peo­ple with demen­tia, Dr. Camp said, is that they no longer learn. But they do: res­i­dents learn to find their din­ing room table, for exam­ple, well after the onset of Alzheimer’s dis­ease. And because they no longer have the higher brain func­tion they had as adults, he rea­soned, they are well suited to Montessori.”

Full arti­cle: Com­ing Full Cir­cle.

Related posts:

- Alzheimer’s Risk and Pre­ven­tion: the Cog­ni­tive Reserve

- Your com­ments on cog­ni­tive train­ing, Posit Sci­ence, Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia, geron­tol­ogy, games

Mind and Brain Games for adults

Just wanted to let you know that we have cre­ated this new, Teasers sec­tion to serve as a repos­i­tory of the best Mind and Brain Games we offer through the blog. If you need to quickly exer­cise your brain after Thanks­giv­ing holiday…you can go ahead and find a selec­tion of 50 Brain Teasers. Enjoy!

Visit: Teasers section

Are there herbal and vitamin supplements that will protect my memory?

Here is ques­tion 17 of 25 from Brain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions.

Are there herbal and vit­a­min sup­ple­ments that will pro­tect my memory?

Key Points:

  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in cold-water fish may be help­ful to long term brain health.
  • Folic acid may also be help­ful to both cog­ni­tive func­tion and hearing.
  • Ginkgo biloba and DHEA do not appear to help your brain.
  • There is still more research to be done and never dis­miss the placebo effect!

Read the rest of this entry »

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