Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


New Report Finds A Brain Health Revolution in the Making, Driven by Digital Technology and Neuroplasticity Research

2010MarketReportIn spite of the recent economic downturn, revenues for digital technologies to assess, enhance and treat cognition, or digital brain health and fitness tools, grew 35% in 2009. “The convergence of demographic and policy trends with cognitive neuroscience discoveries and technological innovation is giving birth to a nascent marketplace that can fundamentally transform what brain health is, how it is measured, and how it is done,” says Alvaro Fernandez, member of the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Aging Society and Editor-in-Chief of the report. “This groundbreaking report can help pioneers shape the emerging toolkit to benefit an aging society that increasingly seeks new ways to enhance cognitive functionality and mental wellness across the lifespan.”

“As the brain is thrust into the center of the healthcare ecosystem, innovative cognitive health and brain fitness applications will play an increasingly important role in defining neurocentric health,” adds Jake Dunagan, Research Director at the Institute For The Future.

Report: Transforming Brain Health with Digital Tools to Assess, Enhance and Treat Cognition across the Lifespan: The State of the Brain Fitness Market 2010.

A majority among the 1,900+ decision-makers and early-adopters surveyed said they trusted the effectiveness of non-invasive options above invasive options to enhance critical brain functionality. Professional and intellectual challenges were rated very effective by 61% of respondents, aerobic exercise and reading books by 42%, meditation by 38%, computerized brain training by 26%, taking prescription drugs by 13%, taking supplements by 12%, and self-medicating with drugs by 1%.

These are among the key findings of a 207-page market report released today by SharpBrains and prepared in collaboration with 24 leading scientists and 10 innovative organizations — the most comprehensive such research study done to analyze emerging research, technologies and marketplace.

“We must do for brain health in the 21st century what we largely accomplished in cardiovascular health in the past century. It’s time to take scientific insights out of the lab and to identify practical applications, making the maintenance of good brain fitness a public health priority,” indicates William Reichman, MD, President and CEO of Baycrest.

Other Report Highlights are: Read the rest of this entry »

What impressed the Judging Panel re. Innovation Awards Winners and Finalists

Let me now share what the Judging PanelAlvaroFer_finalfile_180310 and the SharpBrains team found most impressive from each Winner and Finalist of the 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards, accompanied by some additional information on each of these 10 noteworthy initiatives and case studies.

Grand Prize Winner

USA HockeyUSA Hockey, Inc., is the National Governing Body of the sport of ice hockey in the United States. With a membership of nearly 600,000 players, coaches, officials and volunteers that span all 50 states, USA Hockey seeks to promote the growth of hockey and provide the best possible experience for all participants by encouraging, developing, advancing and administering the sport.

Project Scope: The National Team Development Program (NTDP), a USA Hockey body, is a full-time development program aimed at preparing under-18 student-athletes for participation on US National Teams. Its efforts focus both on high-caliber participation on the ice and individual skill development. The program is composed of two squads: the US National Under-18 and Under-17 Teams.

During the past hockey season, the NTDP implemented a cognitive training system designed to help hockey players develop perception and decision-making skills called The Hockey IntelliGym. Designed to enhance ‘Hockey Sense’—or the way players gather information from their surroundings, make and execute decisions—The Hockey IntelliGym training system utilizes a software-based training environment with customized algorithms that adjust training programs to individual players according to ability and progress. Players engaged in a twice-a-week cognitive training regimen that became an integral part of their overall training program during which time cognitive scientists monitored players’ performance and provided coaching staff with analyses and progress reports. Among statistical figures measured, the most notable was the win ratio of teams involved, as IntelliGym trained team won more games.

The IntelliGym program took more than two years and $2 million to put together with the collaboration of Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE) and was enabled by a grant from the BIRD Foundation who scientifically reviewed the plan and financially supported it.

Project Leader: Scott Monaghan, Director of Operations, USA Hockey National Team Development Program

Selected comments by Judging Panel: Excellent team approach between specialist, coach and player. Great concept and need, and insights/model could apply very broadly to skill development. The adaptation of cognitive training to this particular sports domain is clever and can be generalized to a wide range of other activities. I was impressed with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and their Hockey Intelligym. To develop/adapt such a program and clearly demonstrate it’s impact on real-life performance, is fantastic. There is also a great opportunity to expand this to even more athletes and sports and to everyday life.

Silver Prize Winners

AllstateAllstate (NYSE: ALL) is the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer. Allstate is reinventing protection and retirement to help individuals in approximately 17 million households protect what they have today and better prepare for tomorrow.

Project Scope: Allstate embarked on a journey with Posit Science Corporation to evaluate the interest in and effectiveness of Posit Science’s software—leveraging technology shown in National Institutes of Health funded studies to improve visual processing skills important for safe driving—to test a software program (Insight) in Pennsylvania. Selected drivers, 50 years and older, were invited to help validate the impact cognitive training has on driving safety.

The project was a “proof of concept” for what may turn out to be a significant effort by Allstate to prevent injuries and save lives, enable older people to maintain their independence longer and provide peace of mind to adult children faced with difficult decisions as parents age. The most important reduction was in insured losses and resulting injuries, trauma and disruption to the lives of those involved in auto collisions. After observing the accident behavior of those who completed the Posit program, relative to a well selected control group, Allstate saw a measurable decline that was statistically valid.

Project Leader: Tom Warden, Assistant Vice President, Allstate Research and Planning Center

Selected comments by Judging Panel: The potential impact of this program is second to none. I was impressed with Allstate’s project and their results that showed that the Posit Science software positively impacted the accident records of those completing the program. Allstate should be commended for trying something new and different and for creating such an initiative. Pretty soon I can imagine brain fitness discounts alongside safe driver and other discounts.

images (1)Nationwide, based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by A.M. Best. The company provides a full range of personalized insurance and financial services, including including auto and life insurance, pensions, health and productivity services, and more.

Project Scope: Nationwide Mutual Insurance worked with benefits provider OptumHealth and their partner Brain Resource to add a Web based brain training tool (MyBrainSolutions) to help employees enhance positivity, emotional resilience and deal with others more effectively — all key elements to productivity. More than 500 employees enrolled in the company’s ‘Healthy Holiday Challenge’ during the first week. The results of the new resource led to more positive behavior changes and greater productivity among the workforce.

As part of the MyBrainSolutions launch, associates were asked to register, take a baseline brain assessment, accumulate a target number of points during a 30-day period and then take a second brain assessment. The company found that aspects of positivity, emotional resilience and social skills improved in the short 6-week initiative and saw small changes in productivity were noticeable as well. 87% of those participating in the program indicated they were planning to take additional steps to improve health after participating while 33.5% wouldn’t have accessed other resources to address health and wellbeing if it weren’t for the initiative.

Project Leader: Kathleen Herath, AVP Health & Productivity

Selected comments by Judging Panel: Harvard Business Review estimated a couple years ago that $150B is lost annually as a result of lost employee productivity. Given all of the life events and transitions that individuals experience each year that can distract, this provides a feasible and attractive lever for employees to take advantage of. Employers of the future that can implement innovative models such as these to adapt to the changing needs of employees, enhance employee productivity, and help to redefine what work means by infusing the professional with the personal will win, and have as a reward loyal employees, a happy culture, and an overall higher performing workforce. The positive self-report measures were impressive as well as the improvements in such a short period of time. Seems to have potential for replicability with scalable, low-cost programs. In principle this approach could have large societal benefits. Implementing cognitive training in a work place is novel and taps into the desire to optimize professional functioning as well as stave off decline.  The emotional and self-regulation training is extremely important in the workplace setting.

Rest of Top 10 Finalists

(Note: out of the 40 organizations that submitted entries to the inaugural 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards, 10 became Top 10 Finalists. Here we want to recognize the organizations which, while not winning the overall contest, did impress the judging panel with the quality of their ongoing initiatives. They are ordered by the approximate age of their end user population, from younger to older:

Most Innovative Special Ed School

Arrowsmith SchoolArrowsmith School offers a comprehensive suite of cognitive programs for students with learning disabilities, targeting 19 areas of the brain most commonly involved in learning. The Arrowsmith Program, which originated in Toronto, is now offered in schools in Canada and the US.

Project Scope: Help remediate Learning Disabilities by developing and implementing a proprietary suite of neuroplasticity-based exercises in 3 formats: computer-based, auditory, pen and paper.

  • Project Leader: Barbara Arrowsmith, Director
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel:  How easy would it be to say “they’s not smart enough” or “they’re making excuses”, instead of “they have a cognitive shortcoming that can be addressed.” The target audience of 5-10% of school children with learning disabilities can now have a fighting chance if models like these can be scaled through policy and/or replication. This gets my vote as the model creates almost immeasurable lifetime impact for those fortunate enough to be reap all the cognitive benefits of the program. Arrowsmith efforts since 1979 puts them in a class of their own as pioneers. Arrowsmith also has a process learning from and refining its initiatives. Program can be built further on very solid foundations.

Most Innovative Behavioral Health Provider

UBHCUniversity Behavioral HealthCare (UBHC) was established in 1971 as a division of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) and is one of the largest providers of behavioral healthcare services in the country.

Project Scope: Remediate cognitive impairments associated with severe mental illness by developing and implementing an innovative curriculum and proprietary manual for cognitive rehab support groups, combining best of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, cognitive training, and social skills training.

  • Project Leader: Steven M. Silverstein, Ph.D., Director, Division of Schizophrenia Research & Director of Research
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: Noteworthy person-centered approach, focused on how to impact quality of life with self-empowerment tools and social support.

Most Innovative Foundation

aaaftslogoThe AAA Foundation for Traffic Safetyhas a mission to identify problems, foster research that seeks solutions, and disseminate information and educational materials that promote good safety practices.

Project Scope: Improve driving safety among older adults by  promoting and testing visual processing training program InSight by Posit Science.

  • Project Leader: Peter Kissinger, President and CEO
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: Very high quality program Innovative. Eminently scalable. Benefits users, AAA, and community at large – very good synergy.This approach grounds cognitive training in an activity that for many is critical to independence. The tie to insurance will motivate the training which may increase road safety and have broader benefits for cognitive health.

Most Innovative Hospital

Saint Lukes Brain and Stroke Institute LogoSaint Luke’s Brain and Stroke Institute, part of Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas and Missouri, covers the entire spectrum of care including acute intervention, prevention of complications, secondary prevention and neurorehabilitation.

Project Scope: Help extend healthy independent living and address cognitive impairments by making accessible a Brain Fitness Center that combines education, assessments, lifestyle advice and targeted neurocognitive and mindfulness-based training.

  • Project Leader: John Corbaley, M.S., M.A., CCC/Sp., Director, Brain Fitness Center, Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: Saint Luke’s program was impressive in a number of ways. I liked that they worked with multiple disciplines to create a holistic program focused on improved brain health through cognitive training, nutrition and exercise as well as other activities. It is no surprise that they have a wait list of users eager to join their program.

Most Innovative Adult Education

OUSD Logo Color JPEG
Oakland Unified School District has a mission to ensure that all students graduate as caring, competent, and critical thinkers, as well as fully-informed, engaged, and contributing citizens, prepared to succeed in college and career. Adult and Career Education services empower adults through through education and training.

Project Scope: Extend healthy independent living (for new pilot: improve academic success among at-risk students) by offering a Brain Fitness Class that combines curriculum, discussions and computerized cognitive training (by Posit Science, for older adults; by Lumos Labs, for new pilot with young adults).

  • Project Leader: Teri Barr, Brain Health Program Coordinator
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: Strong approach to overcome some of the age boundaries among targeted populations. What I love the most about this wonderful success story is how this program has been able to appeal to individuals across socio-economic, demographic, and educational backgrounds, and in the process deliver both real and perceived value. One way I think it has done this is through presenting a multi-faceted value proposition (i.e., build cognitive health + build community + have fun in the process) in a single setting. Lessons learned were also very well articulated, and the approach of combining high-tech with high-touch I thought was ingenious and realistic given the context.

Most Innovative Mental Health Association

1-12754The Mental Health Association of Rockland County, in New York State, is a non-profit organization with a mission to prevent mental illness and foster mental wellness through community outreach, direct service and advocacy for legislation and programs.

Project Scope: Extend healthy independent living by offering a cognitive health series of live events to engage the community with a stigma-free, proactive brain fitness message, supported by professional training, socialization platforms and cognitive training (by CogniFit).

  • Project Leader: Karen Oates, Director
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: So great to see a Mental Health Association promoting this important project and allying with so many groups and organizations, including CogniFit, in doing so. Great that they have been able to overcome the stigma so often associated with aging and mental fitness through the project. With the manual and pamphlet, there are excellent replication possibilities.

Most Innovative Health Plan

logoSCAN Health Plan has been focusing for more than 30 years on the unique needs of people with Medicare and is now the country’s fourth largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plan. The company currently has nearly 120,000 members in California and Arizona.

Project Scope: Extend healthy independent living by developing the concept of a “SCAN Van” to deliver health screenings & education combined with physical and cognitive exercise (Wii gaming; touch screen-based cognitive training by HappyNeuron) in places where seniors gather.

  • Project Leader: Lena Perelman, Director of Community Outreach
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: A clever plan for the delivery of cognitive exercises. SCAN’s is innovative not only because its mobile but because it presents a more holistic approach to brain health with its “multi-pronged” program.

Here you can learn more about the 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards.

Announcement: USA Hockey takes gold at Brain Fitness Innovation Awards, Allstate & Nationwide Mutual Insurance runners-up

Please join us in congratulating USA Hockey, Allstate, and Nationwide, for reaching the podium of the 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards, unveiled today.

imagesThe podium’s top position went to USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP), a full-time development program aimed at preparing student-athletes for participation on the US National Under-18 and Under-17 Teams, for its innovative cognitive training system designed with the help of Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE) and the BIRD Foundation to help hockey players develop perception and decision-making skills. More than two years in the making and $2 million to produce, the Hockey IntelliGym offers players a video-game-like training environment to enhance ‘hockey-sense’-the information gathered from surroundings to make and execute playing decisions on-ice. According to statistics, IntelliGym training helped NTDP teams win more games than non-trained teams.

Judges selected the entry for its inspiring team approach-an intersection between specialist, coach and player. To adapt such a program and demonstrate its impact on real-life performance, they felt, opened new opportunities for extension to other sports and everyday life.

“We’re extremely honored that the Hockey IntelliGym is being recognized with this prestigious award,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “Together with ACE and the BIRD Foundation, we’re proud to have developed what is a truly innovative training product that helps enhance the decision-making skills of our athletes.”

allstate_protectionEntries from Allstate and Nationwide Mutual Insurance rounded out the competition’s other top-performers. Nationwide Mutual Insurance’s ‘Healthy Holiday Challenge’ offered a Web based tool-MyBrainSolutions-to help employees enhance positivity, emotional resilience and deal with others more effectively – all key elements to productivity. images (1)In Pennsylvania, Allstate invited selected drivers, 50 years and older, to help validate the impact targeted cognitive training such as Posit Science InSight can have on driving safety in an effort to prevent injuries, save lives, enable older people to maintain their independence longer and provide peace of mind to adult children faced with difficult decisions as parents age.

The remaining Top 10 Finalists included (in alphabetical order):

  • AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
  • Arrowsmith School
  • Mental Health Association of Rockland County
  • Oakland Unified School District
  • Saint Luke’s Brain and Stroke Institute
  • SCAN Health Plan
  • University Behavioral HealthCare

In its first year, the competition showed considerable promise with 40 entries from prestigious organizations and companies around the world. “We’re delighted to have so many entries which showcase that brain fitness is for everyone at any age,” said SharpBrains’ CEO and Co-Founder Alvaro Fernandez. “The brain fitness field is still in its infancy but given today’s longer life spans and the accompanying desire to make those years healthy and productive, we believe it’s important to recognize those organizations pioneering the way and adding to collective learning.”

-> To learn more about the Innovation Awards, click Here.
-> To download full Press Kit, click Here (includes logos, FAQ, initiative descriptions, PR contacts).

A full 200+ page market report detailing all ten finalist case studies in the context of overall research and market trends will be available next month.

Press contact:
Rebecca Brink
PR Rep – SharpBrains
rebecca at brinkconsulting dot biz

About SharpBrains and the Brain Fitness Innovation Awards

SharpBrains is an independent market research firm covering the emerging brain fitness and cognitive health market. Its flagship industry report The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market and consumer guide The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness help decision makers and consumers navigate the emerging brain fitness field based on evidence-based information and independent analysis. The organization also hosts the 3-day online global and virtual SharpBrains Summit, a first of its kind conference, engaging professionals across the globe on the state of cognitive fitness research, technology and market trends., the firm’s educational blog and website, is a member of the Scientific American Partner Network.

Designed AlvaroFer_finalfile_180310to foster innovation and best practice sharing, the Awards celebrate outstanding pioneers applying neuroplasticity-based research and tools in the ‘real world’. Put on by independent market research firm SharpBrains of San Francisco, the Awards recognize organizations devising and implementing results-oriented, scalable initiatives demonstrating commitment to the brain fitness of organization clients, members, patients, students or employees-and showcase innovative uses of non-invasive tools to improve cognitive and emotional functions.

5 Quotes on Neuroplasticity-Based Healthcare and Innovation for an Aging Society

marian_diamondMarian Diamond, UC-Berkeley: “People frequently do the same level of crossword puzzles to stimulate their brains year after year. They do not challenge their brains with more difficult levels of puzzles. In our research, we showed that if we challenged the rats to reach their food cups by having to climb over many obstructions, their brains increased more than those of rats who could walk unhindered to their food cups. Challenge increased brain size.”

tom_pic.thumbnailTom Warden, Allstate: “… we see the opportunity that cognitive training provides as just the next evolution of things that we can advocate and get behind that ultimately make for a better driving experience, a safer driving experience for people. Not only for our insureds, but to help the roads be safer for everyone…what we did is to attempt to replicate the results that were observed in the laboratory environment where older drivers who have completed a good amount of training, 10 hours or more of training, had shown that the risk of crash could be reduced by up to about 50%.”

whitehouse_large-150x150David Whitehouse, OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions: “Managed care has not always been on the forefront of innovation and it has been, for us, a challenge and an excitement to think about how best to incorporate the latest findings in neuroscience. If I was to give you the major areas that we think are important, one is the importance of neuroscience capabilitties to improve triage, the second is the importance that this has on increasing access to much better functional assessments and its relationship to safety. The third is in the area of clinical decision support and the fourth is in brain health. First and foremost, why is it that in every other organ we have objective data of the organ itself doing its work under various loads to help us when we need to make decisions about its health and disease state and how best to support it and intervene.”

meet_bill_DrWilliamEReichman_-150x150William Reichman, Baycrest: “…we must do for brain health in the 21st century what we largely accomplished in cardiovascular health in the past century…that includes an increased focus not only on tertiary prevention, but on primary and secondary prevention…approximately a year and a half ago the Ontario government made a decision to invest $10 million in Canada’s first centre for brain fitness to be housed at Baycrest at the Rotman Research Institute….Here in Canada I think that we’ve been able to make a compelling case maintaining good brain fitness needs to be a national priority for this country and we have been engaged in discussions with the government, both federally and provincially, that brain health programs really need to begin in childhood.”

murali-150x150P Murali Doraiswamy, Duke University: “… you don’t want to walk into a grocery store or into a gas station and see a brain game claiming that they’re a neuroplasticity brain game or a bottle of water that’s claiming it’s a cognitive reserve enhancer because then I think you’re going to destroy the whole field key…So I think it’s essential for academia, for industry, for think tanks, for even the federal government agencies such as perhaps England, US, Canada, to come together and form a set of guidelines that can really guide the proper development of a lot of these products and by products I’m talking about two types of products. One is cognitive screening instruments and the second is intervention products to either improve sort of normal functioning or to increase resilience to stress or three, to prevent disease.”

(answering to audience question, “when do you believe that cognitive screening may become a pretty routine part of standard medical care”) “I think it’s long overdue…the brain is the most important organ.”

In January of 2010 SharpBrains produced the inaugural virtual, global SharpBrains Summit on Technology for Cognitive Health and Performance (January 18-20th, 2010). The Summit featured a dream team of over 40 speakers who are leaders in industry and research to discuss emerging research, tools and best practices for cognitive health and performance, and gathered over 250 participants in 16 countries.

Are you interested in what over 40 leading scientists, clinicians, executives and technologists have to say about the latest Technology for Cognitive Health and Performance? Want to hear how they responded to more than 200 audience questions? You can Learn more Here (full transcripts are now available). SharpBrains readers can get a 15% discount Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Expo Day; Top 15 Articles of 2009

In this January issue of our eNewsletter, we will first neuronsbrief you on the enlightening demos that will take place on Wednesday, January 20th, as part of the SharpBrains Summit, and then present the 15 most stimulating SharpBrains articles of 2009.

Expo Day

If you want to see and discuss the latest programs and technologies for brain fitness, presented by Summit Sponsors, Wednesday January 20th is your day. Each demo will last 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A.

9am. Baycrest/ Cogniciti will introduce the new Memory@Work workshop, designed to teach what memory is, how lifestyle factors such as distraction and stress can affect memory, and how to enhance memory performance at work with the use of enabling strategies.

10am. CogniFit will demo CogniFit Personal Coach and CogniFit Senior Driver, two online programs designed to assess and main cognitive functions for healthy living and safe driving, respectively.

11am. Posit Science will demo InSight, a software-based cognitive training package designed to sharpen brain’s visual system. This is the program being tested by Allstate for safer driving.

Noon. Happy Neuron will introduce HAPPYneuron PRO, a new platform for professionals for the effective delivery and management of cognitive remediation and rehabilitation programs in a patient centric manner.

1pm. SharpBrains will help navigate this growing field by discussing The State of the Brain Fitness Software 2009 report and The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness consumer guide, and summarizing key Summit take-aways.

Learn more and register HERE. Please remember that registration closes on January 17th.

We want to thank our most recent sponsor, the Arrowsmith Program, a comprehensive suite of cognitive programs for students with learning disabilities available in public and private schools in Canada and the U.S. More information here.

And now, let’s review the (in our view) 15 most stimulating articles of 2009.

The Big Picture

100 is the new 65: Why do some people live, and well, to 100? Researchers are trying to find out, reports Meera Lee Sethi at Greater Good Magazine.

Learning about Learning: an Interview with Joshua Waitzkin: Scott Barry Kaufman interviews “child prodigy” Joshua Waitzkin on The Art of Learning.

Debunking 10 Brain Health Myths: Does your brain have a “Brain Age”? Is a Magic Pill to prevent memory problems right around the corner?  Check out the facts to debunk 10 common myths.

Why is working memory relevant to reading and mathematics: A recent large UK study identified 1 in 10 students as having working memory difficulties. Dr. Tracy Alloway elaborates why this matters.

Change Your Environment, Change Yourself: Dr. Brett Steenbarger explains why new environments  force us to exit our routines and actively master unfamiliar challenges.”


Retooling Use it or lose it: Alvaro Fernandez discusses why routine, doing things inside our comfort zones, is the most common enemy of the novelty, variety and challenge our brains need.

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?): Dr. Pascale Michelon, dissects a couple of recent press releases and the underlying studies to clarifying what they mean – and what they don’t mean.

New Study Supports Neurofeedback Treatment for ADHD: Dr. David Rabiner reports the promising findings from the first well-designed controlled trial on the effect of neurofeedback treatment for ADHD.

Do Art Classes Boost Test Scores? Is there a “Mozart Effect?”: Some researchers suggest so; others are not convinced. Karin Evans offers a  thoughtful review of the evidence and asks, “Now, is this the right question?”

Does coffee boost cognitive functions over time? Dr. Pascale Michelon reports good news (long-term effects seem more positive than negative, so coffee leads to no clear harm) and bad ones (no clear beneficial effects on general brain functions).


Brain fitness heads towards its tipping point: How do you know when something is moving towards a Gladwellian tipping point? When insurance companies and policy makers pay attention, Dr. Gerard Finnemore reports.

Visual Representation of the State of the Market 2009: Paul Van Slembrouck beautifully presents the main findings of our 150-page market report, The State of the Brain Fitness Market 2009.

Michael Merzenich on brain fitness: neuroscientist Michael Merzenich discusses neuroplasticity, technology, safe driving, mental health, and the need for standards, automated assessments and “personal brain trainers”.

Brain Teaser

Stimulate your Concentration Skills: when one really wants to memorize a fact, it is crucial to pay attention. Dr. Pascale Michelon challenges you to count a few simple letters.


Finally, an article that may inspire some New Year Resolutions. In Yes, You Can Build Willpower, Daniel Goleman discusses how the brain makes about 10,000 new cells every day, how they migrate to where they are needed, and how each cell can make around 10,000 connections to other brain cells. Implication? Meditate, mindfully, and build positive habits.

Wishing you a Happy and Productive 2010, and looking forward to meeting many of you (200 so far) at the inaugural SharpBrains Summit!

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 »

New Speakers, Sponsor, Partners, for SharpBrains Summit

Our inaugural SharpBrains Summit continues to grow momentum – here goes a quick update.

New Speakers:

tom_pic.thumbnailThomas M. Warden is Assistant Vice President and Leader of Allstate’s Research and Planning Center (ARPC). He helps sets ARPC’s research agenda and manage its execution by 60-member ARPC staff, leading the development of significant innovations that contribute to Allstate’s profitable growth. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst and has an M.B.A. from Harvard University.

lmh_face-inwhite_resizedDr. Laurence Hirshberg directs the NeuroDevelopment Center and serves on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior of the Brown University Medical School as Clinical Assistant Professor. The NeuroDevelopment Center is one of the 20 research sites worldwide participating in the largest study of neurophysiological markers for depression. Dr. Hirshberg is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified in EEG biofeedback by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America, and recently served as Guest Editor and contributor to a special issue of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America devoted to emerging interventions in applied neuroscience, including neurofeedback and other brain based interventions.

New Silver Sponsor:

AGE_Matters_logo_v2A.G.E. Matters is a multidisciplinary Adult and Geriatric Evaluation Clinic in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with a mission to provide swift and continually upgraded access to community-based, comprehensive assessment of cognition, function and behavior; personalized programs of prevention, counseling, education and treatment; and nutritional and lifestyle recommendations, cognitive training programs, and medications of proven benefit.

New Partners:

ADDF-Tight-LogoThe Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation was established in 2004 as a public charity to support the advancement of drugs to prevent, treat, and cure Alzheimer’s disease, related dementias, and cognitive aging. Our strategy of venture philanthropy is based on the idea that our research grant recipients are engaged in projects that are potentially viable in the marketplace with a possible return on investment.

pg_icaa_main_enThe International Council on Active Aging® (ICAA) was founded in the belief that unifying the efforts of the organizations focused on older adults benefits both the people they reach and the organizations themselves. Today, the vision is shared by over 8,000 organizations connected to the ICAA network.

kmdi_logo_vertThe Knowledge Media Design Institute (KMDI) is a leader in interdisciplinary research and teaching at the University of Toronto. Our work spans the scientific study of the ways in which media and media technologies shape, and are shaped by, human activity, and the practical work of founding an interdisciplinary nexus for the design of such media. Adopting a human-centred and participatory approach to design, our goal is to enhance human skill rather than diminish it, and to encourage creativity and innovation.

LDS-logoThe USC Davis School of Gerontology has consistently pioneered innovative educational programs including the world’s first Ph.D. in Gerontology, the first joint Master’s degree in Gerontology and Business Administration, and the first undergraduate Health Science Track in Gerontology. Research in molecular biology, neuroscience, demography, psychology, sociology and public policy is conducted under the auspices of the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, founded in 1964.

Still much much more work ahead…but we are excited to see how this is shaping up!

For more information, and to Register a early-bird rates, click on SharpBrains Summit.

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