Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


February Update: Retooling Brain Health for the 21st Century

Wel­come to the Feb­ru­ary edi­tion of Sharp­Brains monthly eNewslet­ter:

First Report of the Coun­cil on the Age­ing Soci­ety: Global Pol­icy jour­nal pub­lishes the full Pol­icy Prin­ci­ples and call to action out­lined by the Global Agenda Coun­cil on the Age­ing Soci­ety, an ini­tia­tive run by the World Eco­nomic Forum which our CEO Alvaro Fer­nan­dez was hon­ored to join in 2008.

Love Your Brain:  Did you remem­ber to love your brain on St. Valentine’s Day? Let Dr. Mar­ian Dia­mond show why we bet­ter do so –and how.


Who will Ben­e­fit From Train­ing?  New research shows that mea­sur­ing brain activ­ity pat­terns can pre­dict who may ben­e­fit most from tran­ing inter­ven­tions –and who may not. Please note that the Kramer lab involved in this research is now offer­ing a post­doc­toral fellowship.

A Quick Test to Detect Ath­letes’ Con­cus­sions:  This new test can be per­formed at the side­line of sport­ing events to help detect con­cus­sions by look­ing at dif­fer­ent types of eye movements.

The Best Way to Learn: Tak­ing a test in which you recall what you have read seems to be a much bet­ter strat­egy than either study­ing the mate­r­ial repeat­edly or draw­ing detailed dia­grams of what you are learning.


Brain Train­ing Games for Seniors: Donal O’Brien, from Queens Uni­ver­sity at Belfast, tells us about what moti­vates seniors to use a brain train­ing app.

Do Cross­word Puz­zles Help to Coun­ter­act the Aging Process? If so, Which Ones and How? Researcher Nick Almond com­pares the stim­u­la­tion poten­tial of two dif­fer­ent types of cross­words: gen­eral knowl­edge and cryptic.

Vit­a­min D and Cog­ni­tive Decline: This study sup­ports that patients with vit­a­min D defi­ciency show an increased risk of cog­ni­tive decline.

Baby Sleeps and Brain Devel­op­ment: How much sleep a 12 month old baby gets can influ­ence the devel­op­ment of his/her exec­u­tive functions.

PTSD: Can we Dis­rupt the Recon­sol­i­da­tion of Trau­matic Mem­o­ries? A dis­cus­sion of the dif­fer­ent tech­niques used/ under research that can help PTSD patients.


Books and Sum­mit Updates

Visual Illu­sions in Art and Sci­ence: These sur­pris­ing clas­sic illu­sions illus­trate how art and magic can help sci­ence in under­tans­ing how we per­ceive the world around us.

2011 Sharp­Brains Sum­mit Agenda: You can now view the lat­est Agenda for the whole Sum­mit and a 3-minute clip to learn how the Sharp­Brains Vir­tual Sum­mit: Retool­ing Brain Health for the 21st Cen­tury (March 30th — April 1st) will work.


Brain Teaser

Mea­sure your Men­tal Speed and Flex­i­bil­ity: Finally, let us chal­lenge you to try this fun and inter­ac­tive ver­sion of the famous Stroop test.

Council on the Ageing Society, at the Summit of the Global Agenda

Head­ing to Dubai today (a 15-hour direct flight!), com­ing back to San Fran­cisco next Monday.

Last year I wrote about this remark­able new ini­tia­tive by the imagesWorld Eco­nomic Forum here (pro­posal) and here (reflec­tions, emerg­ing dis­cus­sion). This year’s update:

Twit­ter: #WEF­Dubai. Will tweet dur­ing the event, and blog about it next week.

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article!)

(Editor’s note: this arti­cle belongs to the excel­lent May 2009 spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting CognitionCog­ni­tion of sci­en­tific jour­nal Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science, Vol­ume 3, Issue 1. You can order this issue, for 50 euros, here. Highly rec­om­mended for sci­en­tists and tech­ni­cal read­ers inter­ested in the sci­ence. This arti­cle, an indus­try overview, is repro­duced here with autho­riza­tion by the Fron­tiers Research Foun­da­tion).

Prepar­ing Soci­ety for the Cog­ni­tive Age

- By Alvaro Fernandez

Ground­break­ing cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science research has occurred over the last 20 years — with­out par­al­lel growth of con­sumer aware­ness and appro­pri­ate pro­fes­sional dis­sem­i­na­tion. “Cog­ni­tion” remains an elu­sive con­cept with unclear impli­ca­tions out­side the research community.

Ear­lier this year, I pre­sented a talk to health care pro­fes­sion­als at the New York Acad­emy of Med­i­cine, titled “Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware: Help­ing Con­sumers Sep­a­rate Hope from Hype”. I explained what com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive assess­ment and train­ing tools can do (assess/enhance spe­cific cog­ni­tive func­tions), what they can­not do (reduce one’s “brain age”) and the cur­rent uncer­tain­ties about what they can do (i.e., delay Alzheimer’s symp­toms). At the same sym­po­sium, Dr. Gary Kennedy, Direc­tor of Geri­atric Psy­chi­a­try at Mon­te­fiore Med­ical Cen­ter, pro­vided guid­ance on why and how to screen for exec­u­tive func­tion deficits in the con­text of dementia.

I could per­ceive two emerg­ing trends at the event: 1) “Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion” research is most com­monly framed as a health­care, often phar­ma­co­log­i­cal topic, with the tra­di­tional cog­ni­tive bias in med­i­cine of focus­ing on detec­tion and treat­ment of dis­ease, 2) In addi­tion, there is a grow­ing inter­est in non-invasive enhance­ment options and over­all lifestyle issues. Research find­ings in Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion are only just begin­ning to reach the main­stream mar­ket­place, mostly through health­care chan­nels. The oppor­tu­nity is immense, but we will need to ensure the mar­ket­place matures in a ratio­nal and sus­tain­able man­ner, both through health­care and non-healthcare channels.

In Jan­u­ary 2009, we polled the 21,000 sub­scribers of Sharp­Brains’ mar­ket research eNewslet­ter to iden­tify atti­tudes and behav­iors towards the “brain fit­ness” field (a term we chose in 2006 based on a num­ber of con­sumer sur­veys and focus groups to con­nect with a wider audi­ence). Over 2,000 decision-makers and early adopters responded to the survey.

One of the key ques­tions we asked was, “What is the most impor­tant prob­lem you see in the brain fit­ness field and how do you think it can be solved?”. Some exam­ples of the sur­vey free text answers are quoted here, together with my suggestions.

Most impor­tant prob­lems in the brain fit­ness field

Pub­lic aware­ness (39%): “To get peo­ple to under­stand that hered­ity alone does not decide brain func­tion­ing”. We need to ramp up efforts to build pub­lic aware­ness and enthu­si­asm about brain research, includ­ing estab­lish­ing clear links to daily liv­ing. We can col­lab­o­rate with ini­tia­tives such as the Dana Foundation’s Brain Aware­ness Week and use the recent “Neu­ro­science Core Con­cepts” mate­ri­als devel­oped by the Soci­ety for Neu­ro­science to give talks at schools, libraries and workplaces.

Claims (21%): “The lack of stan­dards and clear def­i­n­i­tions is very con­fus­ing, and Read the rest of this entry »

Ever heard of the Longevity Dividend? Perhaps Gray is the New Gold

The Longevity Div­i­dend is a the­ory that says we hope to inter­vene sci­en­tif­i­cally to slow the aging process, which will also delay the onset of age-related dis­eases. Delay­ing aging just seven years would slash rates of con­di­tions like can­cer, dia­betes, Alzheimer’s dis­ease and heart dis­ease in half. That’s the longevity part.

The div­i­dend comes from the social, eco­nomic, and health bonuses that would then be avail­able to spend on schools, energy, jobs, infra­struc­ture tril­lions of dol­lars that today we spend on health­care ser­vices. In fact, at the rate we’re going, by the year 2020 one out of every $5 spent in this coun­try will be spent on health­care. Obvi­ously, some­thing has to change.

Enter the Longevity Div­i­dend. The Longevity Div­i­dend doesn’t sug­gest that we live longer; instead, it calls for liv­ing bet­ter. The idea is that if we use sci­ence to increase healthspan, not lifes­pan. In other words, tomor­rows 50-year-old would have the health pro­file of a 43-year-old.

It might sound like sci­ence fic­tion, but, in fact, it’s quite pos­si­ble. We’re already doing it in some ani­mal mod­els using genetic and dietary inter­ven­tions, tech­niques related to what sci­en­tists call “the biol­ogy of aging.”

Get­ting there in humans, how­ever, means embrac­ing an entirely new approach to our think­ing about dis­ease and aging, and how we con­duct sci­en­tific research into the two.

Get­ting Sci­en­tists’ Attention

A group of emi­nent researchers first pro­posed the Longevity Div­i­dend in a 2006 arti­cle pub­lished in The Sci­en­tist. The authors, S. Jay Olshan­sky, PhD, pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy and bio­sta­t­ics at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois in Chicago, Daniel P. Perry, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Alliance for Aging Research in Wash­ing­ton, DC, Richard A. Miller, MD, PhD, pro­fes­sor of pathol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan in Ann Arbor, and Robert N. But­ler, MD, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Inter­na­tional Longevity Cen­ter in New York, intended their essay to be a “gen­eral state­ment to sci­en­tists about the need for a par­a­digm shift in the way we think about aging and disease.

The researchers also met with U.S. sen­a­tors who served on the Sen­ate com­mit­tee that over­saw the bud­get for the National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH). “We told them we believed Read the rest of this entry »

Making Healthy Choices: Primare Care and Prevention

Hiroshi Komiyama, Pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­sity of Tokyo and Chair­per­son of the Global Agenda Coun­cil on the Chal­lenges of Geron­tol­ogy I am a mem­ber of, just pro­vided coun­cil mem­bers with a brief update of his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the recent World Eco­nomic Forum.

Part of the pro­ceed­ings are pub­lic — you may enjoy read­ing this panel write-up of the ses­sion Health­care under Stress:

- “Japan has the world’s old­est pop­u­la­tion. Health and longevity cre­ate wealth and, thus, “health begets wealth”. It is doc­u­mented that nations that develop a five-year life expectancy advan­tage also cre­ate a larger GDP. A healthy child­hood and adult­hood con­tribute to a more pro­duc­tive old age. New mar­kets and indus­tries are aris­ing – “sil­ver indus­tries” such as finan­cial ser­vices, health, hous­ing and hos­pi­tal­ity geared to senior cit­i­zens. Longevity needs to be linked to health – includ­ing cog­ni­tive health – and lifestyle choices play a major role in health.”

- “The pub­lic health focus is shift­ing from infec­tions to car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases. Com­plex new mod­els are nec­es­sary to develop bet­ter responses and improved health – with the pri­mary empha­sis on “really good pri­mary health­care” and pre­ven­tion – to lower costs. Pre­ven­tion increases the healthy years of a person’s life. The chal­lenge is cre­at­ing the incen­tive for pre­ven­tion: how can peo­ple be encour­aged to make healthy choices? Mobi­lized pop­u­la­tions can drive the change. Fin­land has an 80% lower inci­dence of heart dis­ease than 30 years ago due to such incentives.”

Full write-up: Health­care under Stress

Related arti­cles:

- The Future of the Aging Soci­ety: Bur­den or Human Capital?

- Update: Global Con­sor­tium for Neu­rocog­ni­tive Fit­ness Innovation

Brain fitness & training heads towards its tipping point

How do you know when some­thing is fast mov­ing towards a Glad­wellian tip­ping point? When health insur­ance com­pa­nies and pub­lic pol­icy mak­ers launch sig­nif­i­cant initiatives.

For exam­ple, the gov­ern­ment of Ontario recently announced a $10 mil­lion invest­ment with Bay­crest Research Cen­tre who will part­ner with MaRS Ven­ture Group to develop and com­mer­cialise brain fit­ness tech­nolo­gies. The invest­ment was matched by an addi­tional $10 mil­lion from pri­vate sources.

Another impor­tant devel­op­ment was the $18 mil­lion agree­ment between the Australian-based Brain Resource Com­pany (ASX:BRC) and OptumHealth in the US. This will allow for the pro­vi­sion of web-based cog­ni­tive assess­ments as part of a clinician’s deci­sion sup­port systems.

These are some ini­tia­tives cov­ered in a webi­nar Top Ten Cog­ni­tive Fit­ness Events of 2008 pre­sented in Decem­ber for Sharp­Brains’ clients. Alvaro Fer­nan­dez described the state of play and main dri­vers behind the growth of the bur­geon­ing brain fit­ness mar­ket — which I will try and sum­ma­rize here.

The key dri­vers seem to be Read the rest of this entry »

Towards a Healthy Living & Cognitive Health Agenda

Here you have the Novem­ber edi­tion of our monthly newslet­ter cov­er­ing cog­ni­tive health and brain fit­ness top­ics. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, sim­ply by brain fitness and health newslettersub­mit­ting your email at the top of this page.

Thank you for your inter­est, atten­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion in our Sharp­Brains com­mu­nity. As always, we appre­ci­ate your com­ments and suggestions.

Sum­mit of the Global Agenda

How can we per­suade busi­ness lead­ers, policy-makers and researchers of the urgency to develop and pro­mote an inte­grated “Healthy Liv­ing” agenda focused on main­tain­ing life­long phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive health, vs. the usual mind­set focused on deal­ing with spe­cific dis­eases and prob­lems once they arise?

In The Future of the Aging Soci­ety: Bur­den or Human Cap­i­tal?, I sum­ma­rize some of the key themes dis­cussed at the World Eco­nomic Forum event in Dubai on Novem­ber 7-9th. The world is aging — and in health­ier ways. But our health­care and retire­ment sys­tems are on track to go bank­rupt — their premises are out­dated. The cur­rent disease-based research agenda com­pounds the prob­lem. Solu­tions? 1) Pro­mote Healthy Lifestyles that help Main­tain Phys­i­cal and Cog­ni­tive Func­tional Abil­i­ties, 2) Redesign Envi­ron­ments to Fos­ter Health, Engage­ment and Finan­cial Secu­rity, 3) Develop an Inte­grated Healthy Liv­ing & Aging Research Agenda. Specif­i­cally, we could work with the UN and Global 2000 com­pa­nies to move for­ward a new agenda.

Planet Earth 2.0: A New Oper­at­ing Sys­tem: Imag­ine see­ing a top sheik in Dubai, wrapped in tra­di­tional Arab cloth­ing, exclaim “Yes We Can (a la Obama) in front of the 800 global experts, adding that “we build the future with our own hands. Some of the atten­dants of the World Eco­nomic Forum’s Sum­mit of the Global Agenda urged us to “reboot” the sys­tem. More than a “reboot”, we may have to upgrade to a new global “Yes We Can” oper­at­ing system.

Brain Fit­ness Research

Train­ing Atten­tion and Emo­tional Self-Regulation: Dr. Michael Pos­ner, a promi­nent  cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist and first recip­i­ent of the Dogan Prize, grants us a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view on what atten­tion, self-regulation, and effort­ful con­trol are, and how to improve them using soft­ware, med­i­ta­tion, and par­ent­ing. In his words, “we have found no ceil­ing for abil­i­ties such as atten­tion, includ­ing among adults. The more train­ing (…) the higher the results.”

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and the Brain That Changes Itself: Lau­rie Bar­tels reviews the excel­lent book by Nor­man Doidge, explain­ing that “the neu­ro­science behind Doidge’s book involves neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, which is the brain’s abil­ity to rewire itself. This means that the brain  is our intel­li­gence,  is not some­thing fixed in con­crete but rather a chang­ing, learn­ing entity.”

Can We Pick Your Brain re: Cog­ni­tive Assess­ments?: In our view, a crit­i­cal com­po­nent in the matu­rity of the brain fit­ness mar­ket will be the avail­abil­ity of inex­pen­sive, valid and reli­able objec­tive cog­ni­tive assess­ments,  to help mea­sure how our brain func­tions change over time and iden­tify pri­or­i­ties for tar­geted improve­ments. Dr. Joshua Stein­er­man asks if you would be up for them?

Use It (Prop­erly) or Lose It

Mem­ory Prob­lems? Per­haps you are Multi-tasking: Dr. Bill Klemm tells us that “Multi-tasking vio­lates every­thing we know about how mem­ory works.” He explains that “(multi-tasking) prob­a­bly does make learn­ing less tedious, but it clearly makes learn­ing less effi­cient and less effective.”

Phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise to pre­vent cog­ni­tive decline: The Amer­i­can Med­ical News, a weekly news­pa­per for physi­cians pub­lished by the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion, just pub­lished an excel­lent arti­cle on the impor­tance of phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise. We are very happy to see efforts like these to train physi­cians and health pro­fes­sion­als in gen­eral,  given that most of them were trained under a very dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing of the brain than the one we have today.

Brain Fit­ness 2: Sight & Sound: PBS recently announced the sec­ond install­ment of their pop­u­lar Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram show, to start air­ing soon.

MetaCar­ni­val #1: a con­ver­sa­tion across the blo­gos­phere: We often insist on “Nov­elty, Vari­ety and Chal­lenge” as key ingre­di­ents for good “brain exer­cise”. There are many ways to mix those ingre­di­ents — you may enjoy this one, the first inter­dis­ci­pli­nary gath­er­ing of blogs and blog car­ni­vals cov­er­ing health, sci­ence, anthro­pol­ogy, gen­eral advice and more.

Brain Teasers

Top 15 Brain Teasers and Games for Men­tal Exer­cise: Over the last 2 years we have pub­lished close to 100 puz­zles, teasers, rid­dles, and every kind of men­tal exer­cise (with­out count­ing our in-depth inter­views with top neu­ro­sci­en­tists). Which ones have proven most stim­u­lat­ing for you. Let us know. Here is a selec­tion of our Top 15 teasers.

Final Details

That’s all for now. Next month, we will be offer­ing another great selec­tion of arti­cles: Dr. Andrew New­berg will dis­cuss the brain value of med­i­ta­tion,  Dr. David Rabiner will review a recent study on how neu­ro­feed­back may assist in the diag­nos­tic of atten­tion deficits, and much more.

Please share this newslet­ter with your friends and col­leagues if you haven’t done so already.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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