Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Dr. Michael Merzenich: To harness Neuroplasticity for cognitive enhancement, we need to think “Fitness” more than “Games”

KavliPrize-Neuro(Editor’s Note: In order to help readers familiarize themselves with the work and thinking of Dr. Michael Merzenich, one of the winners of the 2016 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience for groundbreaking work on neuroplasticity, we are condensing and republishing the comprehensive conversation that Dr. Merzenich and Alvaro Fernandez had in 2009, in preparation for the inaugural SharpBrains Virtual Summit.)

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, and in 2004 became co-founder and Read the rest of this entry »

#5. Quick brain teasers for adults to flex two key mental muscles: attention and working memory

brain teasers for adults.

Looking for some fun, and free, cognitive stimulation? Here you have a few quick brain teasers to exercise your atten­tion and your work­ing mem­ory–the abil­ity to keep infor­ma­tion in your mind while working on integrating, processing it. Given them a try…they are not as easy as they seem. Read the rest of this entry »

23. Quick brainteaser to test your cognitive skills…and biases

brainteaser_considerlinda

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 Virtual Summit in January, and for your time today. In 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 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 memory? 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

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