Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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The Brain Fitness Program DVD (Michael Merzenich)

The most popular question we got when we announced that PBS had a great special on Brain Fitness Program and Neuroplasticity in December was, when will the DVD be available?

Well, finally here it comes. You can click on the image or the title to go over to PBS shop to learn more and buy it.

The Brain Fitness Program DVD ($24.95, shipped by 02/01/08). “This program presents a workout to help viewers get their brains in better shape. The Brain Fitness Program is based on neuro-plasticity, the ability of the brain to change and adapt — even rewire itself. In the past two years, a team of scientists has developed computer-based stimulus sets that drive beneficial chemical, physical and functional changes in the brain. Dr. Michael Merzenich of the University of California San Francisco and his colleagues around the world have been leading this effort; he brings the research findings, along with a scientifically based set of brain exercises, to PBS viewers in this innovative and life-altering program. Peter Coyote narrates. ”

To purchase: click Here.

You can watch a 3-minute trailer: click here.

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Note: How can anyone take care of his or her brain when every week brings a new barrage of articles and studies which seem to contradict each other?

Do supplements improve memory? Do you need both physical and mental exercise –or is one of them enough? Why is managing stress so important to attention and memory? Which brain training approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

SharpBrainsGuide_3DIf you have these questions, check out this new book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:

“Finally, an insightful and complete overview of the science, products and trends to debunk old myths and help us all maintain our brains in top shape. A must-read”
Gloria Cavanaugh, former President & CEO of the American Society on Aging and founding Board member of the National Alliance for Caregiving
Kudos for an excellent resource! This SharpBrains Guide is full of top notch information, provides practical tips and helps separate hype from hope in the brain health arena.”
Elizabeth Edgerly, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer, Alzheimer’s Association
“A masterful guide to the brain training revolution. Promises to stimulate a much needed conversation that will nudge society to build a new brain fitness culture on solid, research-based, foundations.”
P. Murali Doraiswamy MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University and Co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan

Brain Fitness Program and Neuroplasticity @ PBS

Update (11/10/10): Have you seen PBS great specials on Brain Fitness and Neuroplasticity ?

The Brain Fitness Program DVD ($24.95)

“The Brain Fitness Program is based on the brain’s ability to change and adapt, even rewire itself. In the past two years, a team of scientists has developed computer-based stimulus sets that drive beneficial chemical, physical and functional changes in the Peter Coyote Brain Fitness Programbrain. Dr. Michael Merzenich of the University of California and his colleagues share their scientifically based set of brain exercises in this life-altering program. Peter Coyote (pictured) narrates. ”

PBS aired in December 2007 a special program on neuroplasticity, brain fitness, aging and the brain titled “Brain Fitness Program”. To watch the 3-minute trailer: click here.

In 2008, PBS released a second DVD:

Brain Fitness 2: Sight and Sound DVD ($24.95)

“This program, specifically designed to help people get the most from their vision and hearing as they age, considers how these senses change throughout life and what people can do to keep them healthy and fully functional.”

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If you do not have time to watch these great documentaries, here are a few points one needs to understand about neuroplasticity:

1.  The human brain is now con­sid­ered to be a highly dynamic and con­stantly reor­ga­niz­ing sys­tem capa­ble of being shaped and reshaped across an entire lifes­pan. It is believed that every expe­ri­ence alters the brain’s orga­ni­za­tion at some level. The key words in this new approach to the brain are neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity refers to the life­long capac­ity of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stim­u­la­tion of learn­ing and expe­ri­ence. Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis is the abil­ity to cre­ate new neu­rons and con­nec­tions between neu­rons through­out a life­time. The lat­ter process is also referred to as synap­to­ge­n­e­sis. This new par­a­digm con­trasts with tra­di­tional ideas of the human brain being a fixed and essen­tially lim­ited sys­tem that only degrades with age.

2. As we age, the rate of change in the brain, or neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, declines but does not come to a halt. In addi­tion, we now know that new neu­rons can appear in cer­tain parts of the brain up until the day we die.

3. Brain plas­tic­ity is cru­cial fol­low­ing head injury. It is the one brain’s abil­ity that allows recovery. Brain plas­tic­ity is also the abil­ity that brain train­ing takes advan­tages of to try to slow down the aging process.

To read about evidence of neuroplasticity in the human brain take a look at Brain plasticity: How learning changes you brain

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Note: How can anyone take care of his or her brain when every week brings a new barrage of articles and studies which seem to contradict each other?

Do supplements improve memory? Do you need both physical and mental exercise –or is one of them enough? Why is managing stress so important to attention and memory? Which brain training approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

If you have these questions, check out this new book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:

“Finally, an insightful and complete overview of the science, products and trends to debunk old myths and help us all maintain our brains in top shape. A must-read”
Gloria Cavanaugh, former President & CEO of the American Society on Aging and founding Board member of the National Alliance for Caregiving
“Kudos for an excellent resource! This SharpBrains Guide is full of top notch information, provides practical tips and helps separate hype from hope in the brain health arena.”
Elizabeth Edgerly, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer, Alzheimer’s Association

“A masterful guide to the brain training revolution. Promises to stimulate a much needed conversation that will nudge society to build a new brain fitness culture on solid, research-based, foundations.”
P. Murali Doraiswamy MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University and Co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan

The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click

Here

to order at Amazon.com.
Print Edition, $24.95


SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click

Here

to order at Amazon.com,
Kindle Edition, $9.99

Memory Improvement Techniques and Brain Exercises

Fitness TrainerA reader (thanks Mike!) sends us this fun article, titled A matter of training, on how to train our memory. Some quotes:

“It’s a skill, not a talent. It’s something anyone could have picked up … I’m not born with this. It’s about training and technique, he says, explaining his unusual ability. Anant holds the Limca Record  the Indian equivalent of the Guinness Record œ for memorising 75 telephone numbers, along with the names of their owners, in less than an hour. He is recognised as “the man with the most phenomenal memory in India.

“Unfortunately, most people think that memorising is very difficult. The moment they see someone demonstrate something like this, they think it’s out of this world.

If you want to remember something, you have to link it to something you already know. Association is the natural principal. For example, if you need directions to a place, a landmark is often used as a point of reference. And if you derive pleasure from something you do, there’s a good chance you’ll remember it. Since the brain already works in this manner, why don’t we take control of it?

“To me, an intelligent person is someone who is able to put together more of his skills to solve a problem. Intelligence is about using strategies.

The key concept here is that memory, as well as other cognitive skills, can be trained through Read the rest of this entry »

Working Memory Training from a pediatrician perspective, focused on attention deficits

Arthur Lavin Today we interview Dr. Arthur Lavin, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western School of Medicine, pediatrician in private practice, and one of the first providers of Cogmed Working Memory Training in the US (the program whose research we discussed with Dr. Torkel Klingberg and Dr. Bradley Gibson). Dr. Lavin has a long standing interest in technology-as evidenced by Microsoft’s recognition of his paperless office- and in brain research and applications-he trained with esteemed Mel Levine from All Kinds of Minds-.

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Key take-aways:

– Schools today are not yet in a position to effectively help kids with cognitive issues deal with increasing cognitive demands.

– Working Memory is a cognitive skill fundamental to planning, sequencing, and executing school-related work.

– Working Memory can be trained, as evidenced by Dr. Lavin’s work, based on Cogmed Working Memory Training, with kids who have attention deficits.

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Context on cognitive fitness and schools

AF (Alvaro Fernandez): Dr. Lavin, thanks for being with us. It is not very common for a pediatrician to have such an active interest in brain research and cognitive fitness. Can you explain the source of your interest?

AL (Arthur Lavin): Throughout my life I have been fascinated by how the mind works. Both from the research point of view and the practical one: how can scientists’ increasing knowledge improve kids’ lives? We now live in an truly exciting era in which solid scientific progress in neuroscience is at last creating opportunities to improve people’s actual cognitive function. The progress Cogmed has achieved in creating a program that can make great differences in the lives of children with attention deficits is one of the most exciting recent developments. My colleague Ms. Susan Glaser and I recently published two books: Who’s Boss: Moving Families from Conflict to Collaboration (Collaboration Press, 2006) and Baby & Toddler Sleep Solutions for Dummies (Wiley, 2007), so I not only see myself as a pediatrician but also an educator. I see parents in real need of guidance and support. They usually are both very skeptical, since Read the rest of this entry »

The Gregarious Brain and cognitive skills

I find via MindHacks that NYT Magazine has published a great article titled The Gregarious Brain, subtitled “Williams syndrome – a genetic accident that causes cognitive deficits-“. The writer, David Dobbs, does an spectacular job at explaining that syndrome in the context of what cognitive skills are and how they evolved. Some sample quotes:

  • “In the view of two of Bellugi’s frequent collaborators, Albert Galaburda, a Harvard Medical School professor of neurology and neuroscience, and Allan Reiss, a neuroscientist at the Stanford School of Medicine, Nicki’s learned facility at sports talk illustrates a central lesson of Williams and, for that matter, modern genetics: genes (or their absence) do not hard-wire people for certain behaviors. There is no gene for understanding calculus. But genes do shape behavior and personality, and they do so by creating brain structures and functions that favor certain abilities and appetites more than others.”
  • “…This doesn’t mean that specific behaviors are hard-wired. M.I.T. math majors aren’t born doing calculus, and people with Williams don’t enter life telling stories. As Allan Reiss put it: “It’s not just ‘genes make brain make behavior.’ You have environment and experience too. By environment, Reiss means less the atmosphere of a home or a school than the endless string of challenges and opportunities that life presents any person starting at birth.”
  • (Talking about when our ancestors started to live in larger groups) “But the bigger groups imposed a new brain load: the members had to be smart enough to balance their individual needs with those of the pack. This meant cooperating and exercising some individual restraint. It also required Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness news.

A couple of good recent articles:

(You can join our monthly newsletter by subscribing at the top of this page).

Brain Games will give adults all the challenge they can handle

Baltimore Sun, MD. Mar 22, 2007.The reporter provides a great survey of products. The only parts I find missing are:

1) what specific cognitive skill/s is/are being trained by each product? if we understand that the brain has a variety of structural and functional areas, it becomes evident that different programs may be training different “mental muscles”.

2) How does each program enable the user measure progress in an objective way? I’d say this is the main difference between “games” and brain fitness programs. If you have a wildly different brain age everytime you try…that so-called brain age is not very credible.

Does brain exercise fight dementia?
Minneapolis Star Tribune (subscription), MN. Mar 18, 2007.As the article mentions, no program can claim to “prevent Alzheimer’s”. And I haven’t seen Posit Science (or us) claim such a thing, or imply it. But what can be claimed is meaningful: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Training with Cognitive Simulations

Today we will continue our review of the benefits of brain training for specific occupations: in this case, pilots and basketball players. The lessons can be relevant not only for corporate training but also for education and brain health & wellness.

To do so, we will select quotes from our interview last year with one of the major scientists in the field of cognitive simulations, Professor Daniel Gopher. You can read the full interview here.

Prof. Gopher published an award-winning article in 1994, Gopher, D., Weil, M. and Baraket, T. (1994), Transfer of skill from a computer game trainer to flight, Human Factors 36, 1–19., that constitutes a key milestone in the cognitive engineering field.

On Cognitive Training and Cognitive Simulations

AF: Tell us a bit about your overall research interests

DG: My main interest has been how to expand the limits of human attention, information processing and response capabilities which are critical in complex, real-time decision-making, high-demand tasks such as flying a military jet or playing professional basketball. Using a tennis analogy, my goal has been, and is, how to help develop many “Wimbledon”-like champions. Each with their own styles, but performing to their maximum capacity to succeed in their environments.

What research over the last 15-20 years has shown is that cognition, or what we call thinking and performance, is really a set of skills that we can train systematically. And that computer-based cognitive trainers or “cognitive simulations” are the most effective and efficient way to do so.

This is an important point, so let me emphasize it. What we have discovered is that a key factor for an effective transfer from training environment to reality is that the training program ensures “Cognitive Fidelity“, this is, it should faithfully represent the mental demands that happen in the real world. Traditional approaches focus instead on Read the rest of this entry »

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